Making hydrogen-fuelled vehicles accessible

Company Focus

Fuel Cell Systems delivers flexible hydrogen refuelling, helping companies trial and introduce hydrogen powered commercial vehicles.

In the year the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, will be hosted by the UK government and the target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is reinforced with tough interim goals for 2030, commercial fleets are committed to reducing emissions. However, they need support and some confidence that the infrastructure will be in place to help them achieve this goal.

Whilst different solutions will be suitable for different companies, government investment in hydrogen technology is beginning to increase, with £54 million of funding for three projects to develop hydrogen powertrain technology for commercial vehicles and buses.

Electric drivetrains powered by hydrogen fuel cells have an increased range, and a quick fill time compared to their battery equivalents, making them ideal for heavier vehicles and fleet operations. The most recent Carbon Budget Report from the UK Climate Change Committee (December 2020) states: “Hydrogen offers the closest user experience to current diesel operations. Given sufficient hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, fleet operators would be able to fill up vehicles either in-depot or from filling stations en route as currently, or both. Hydrogen is also a particularly attractive solution for vehicles requiring longer independent range.”

Yet despite the increase in investment, this does not extend to refuelling infrastructure which remains a major limiting factor for the take up and even trialling of hydrogen powered solutions for transport. There are only 11 publicly available hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK. Analysis by Ricardo expects that around 500-600 hydrogen refuelling stations would be required by 2050 to support the use of hydrogen by larger HGVs only. If smaller vehicles were to use hydrogen in preference to electrification, this could increase to around 1,000.

Addressing the refuelling issue

At Fuel Cell Systems Ltd (FCSL) we have been working with fuel cells and hydrogen since 2003. Tom Chicken, CTO at FCSL commented “We kept coming across the problem of where do you get your hydrogen from? So, we decided to do something about it. With our background in the fuel cells, we already knew how to use hydrogen and all the safety measures you need to put into place and how to write control systems. We put all of that together and we’ve developed a range of low-cost hydrogen refuelling solutions.”

Our objective is only to deploy the equipment to meet the hydrogen need, enabling customers to trial hydrogen on a small scale first, at a suitable location or their own depot. We deliver hydrogen in the correct quantity, purity, pressure and location to fulfil our customers’ requirement. Our newest product, HyQube, is modular and redeployable, so customers can start small if they need to, but with the opportunity to scale up over time. All solutions don’t need to be large scale, full refuelling stations. We can provide everything from a low cost, direct boost system through to a full 700 bar station with chilling. We manufacture the products ourselves, ready for shipping, reducing what can be unworkable lead times across the industry.

There’s been huge interest across Europe and we are exporting units from our manufacturing premises in the UK to meet demand. Our other refuelling products include HyTruck, a hydrogen refuelling station in the back of a 7.5 tonne truck, which has been in constant use since 2016, to provide mobile refuelling for customers in the UK and Europe. It has recently returned from Sweden where it was used to enable winter testing of a new hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle.

Tom Chicken added: “Our refuelling products are suitable for all types of transport, so we’re continuing to provide refuelling services for planes, trains and automobiles and we have two new projects in the marine market as well.

“One of our current UK projects is supporting development of the Milford Haven Energy Kingdom - a £4.5 million project exploring the vital role hydrogen could play in a decarbonised energy future, including the integration of heat, power and transport. We are busy delivering our refuelling products to customers across Europe and looking to expand the range of equipment we offer. Refuelling is sometimes an afterthought in the development of hydrogen-powered transport products and our quick and agile approach to product development means we can respond to our customers to fit their timescales and requirements.”