A truly sustainable transport sector must integrate fuel cells

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Bramble Energy’s Vidal Bharath says battery-electric vehicles alone won’t lead to a zero-emission mobility ecosystem

Despite the rapid approach of Net Zero goals and bans on the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles, it is currently difficult to see how the transportation industry will become completely green and sustainable. At the end of 2018, the ONS reported that only 0.5% of all vehicles registered in the UK were very low emission vehicles and that transport remained the highest emitting sector of national greenhouse gases .

The right car for the right trip

Electrification and pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have received considerable attention. These charge using grid electricity, have no tailpipe emissions, and have provided a band-aid to transportation emissions issues, but the problem goes deeper than that. If you live in the city, take short trips and have access to a charging station, then yes, a pure BEV is the vehicle for you. Even if you have to make the long trip infrequently, you can make it work with forward planning; few will hesitate to stop for a coffee and recharge on the way to a destination, a moment for you and the car to recharge your batteries. However, there are several areas such as larger transportation applications and the transportation of goods as well as people where electrification will not suffice for a number of reasons. This is where we come to a hybrid solution: Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs).

There are already a number of successful deployments of large-scale hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fleets. For example, Green Tomato Cars operates a fleet of 27 Toyota Mirais units in London which exceeded 1 million kilometers in 2019 and each of these cars saved the equivalent of 7.6 tonnes of CO2 over that distance and did not emitted no NOx emissions.

Meanwhile, Aberdeen earlier this year launched a fleet of 15 double-decker hydrogen buses that have already covered 100,000 miles and plans are underway for the city to produce its own hydrogen. This means that all of their buses will be locally powered, moving a city that has long been associated with the oil industry towards a cleaner future.

The Toyota Mirai became London’s first private hydrogen-powered rental car in 2015

What can hydrogen fuel cells do for transportation

To break it down, hydrogen fuel cells can replace or supplement (range extender) an existing battery transmission. This means it can deliver quick refueling, zero-emission power while being completely silent, with operating costs for passenger vehicles similar to a Prius. While all of this sounds reasonable, there is one main sticking point where we don’t see more of these vehicles on our roads: the infrastructure for charging and refueling.

Today in the UK (a relatively small and easily switchable place) there are just under 40,000 commercial charging points in around 14,000 locations (this does not include private charging points in homes or homes). companies) to serve a British fleet of 500,000 BEVs and connect hybrid electric vehicles. Compare that to the 8,000 traditional gasoline and diesel service stations serving 40 million conventional fuel cars, 3.3 million vans and 500,000 trucks.

A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (car, truck, bus, etc.) refuels within the typical time frame like its diesel counterpart. This means that the UK can meet domestic demand using the current number of petrol stations. In addition, the deployment of 8,000 hydrogen refuelers can be done more quickly and is autonomous.

If we assume that the 495,000 UK registered trucks will eventually switch to BEV and each recharge on average once a day, the energy consumption of that refueling would be equivalent to powering 47 million homes per day.

The UK currently only has a handful of hydrogen refueling stations, but as seen in markets like Germany, California, Japan and China, the numbers can grow rapidly. These stations provide a centralized and ubiquitous green supply source that can be deployed without a massive infrastructure and network overhaul. Likewise, due to its centralized refueling nature, hydrogen fuel cells can also be deployed in rail, maritime and aeronautical depots.

Put into perspective

While there is a need to add additional charging points and even more powerful versions for larger vehicles such as trucks, let’s assume that the current electric charge capacity is well utilized. The question we should all be asking ourselves is, how many charging points will be needed if we were all to upgrade to a BEV?

We can make the educated assumption that the number of commercial car chargers required will be approximately 2,800,000 charging points. Then there is the impact that additional traditional type chargers and larger chargers (mega type) will have on the existing grid and electrical infrastructure. To put it simply, the existing networks are not developed to handle this excess demand. At the end of the day, we have to think about how to extend this or how to better deploy a localized infrastructure on premise. It gets even more difficult when you can have hundreds of thousands of charging points distributed.

Toyota mirai
Enterprise Rent-A-Car includes hydrogen fuel cell electric cars as part of a number of initiatives to explore alternative fuels to provide low-emission, zero-emission transportation

If we assume that the 495,000 UK registered trucks were to eventually switch to BEV and each recharged on average once per day, the energy consumption of that refueling would be equivalent to powering 47 million homes per day. The UK currently has 29 million homes, so the process of refueling trucks far exceeds national residential energy use.

Combination is the key

For the UK to achieve the Net Zero 2050 goal and be fully sustainable with a green transport sector, it cannot be against each other. BEVs versus FCEVs is certainly not the right argument – one cannot be dismissed so that the other can win. Only with a combination of these solutions can the transport sector be completely carbon free.

The government has focused on overhauling infrastructure for passenger vehicles and certainly in UK cities a BEV might just be the best solution, but UK infrastructure is ready to deliver and deliver. respond to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, especially in areas such as public transportation and heavy load transportation where batteries alone do not offer the most optimized solution.


About the Author: Vidal Bharath is COO at Bramble Energy

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