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Hy-potential: If you build it, they will come.

With early hydrogen refuelling infrastructure well established in certain regions, the world needs to wake up to the missed opportunity of not using it to its full capacity.

Almost exactly a year on from when London staged the Shell Eco-marathon Drivers’ World Championship Grand Final, the capital is preparing to welcome the 2019 generation of teams to the track.

Year after year, the aim for the teams remains the same: win. But, from one SEM event to the next, one thing continues to change: the potential for wider spread hydrogen mobility increases. Indeed, since the event last year, a further three hydrogen refuelling stations have cropped up across the UK. That’s three of 48 new public hydrogen refuelling stations that were put into operation worldwide in 2018. And that is a whole heap more hydrogen fuelling capacity. The problem is, it’ll be unused capacity because there aren’t yet enough fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) on the roads.

»The general population and automakers must stop seeing the chicken and egg problem as a barrier to hydrogen mobility.«

»Every kg of hydrogen that stays in a tank and doesn’t go into a vehicle is an unused ~100km of emission-free driving.«

What a difference a year makes

Of course, big picture-wise, as one SEM series ends and another begins, it also brings many countries one year closer to the pledges they made as part of the Paris Climate Agreement: i.e. their commitments for curbing emissions through 2025 or 2030 to meet the central aim of limiting the global average temperature rise in this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius. For some of those countries it’s a year closer to the outright ban of new fossil-fuel vehicle sales by 2030 for the likes of Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden and 2040 for China, France and parts of the UK.

The point here is simple: as the proverb goes, time and tide wait for no man. And so, the general population and automakers must stop seeing the chicken and egg problem as a barrier to hydrogen mobility: either the chicken has hatched or the egg has been laid. Either way, depending on region, the early hydrogen infrastructure is by the most part already at the level that would make FCEV, like buses, trucks, trains and of course cars, a viable mobility option for private cars and fleet applications alike. And it’s only the start. Several regions have ambitious targets already set for the future with a recent report suggesting that there could be 3,600 stations globally by 2033.

But the focus must stay on the early hydrogen infrastructure available here and now. Such expansion relies on the utilization of existing infrastructure. Bottom line: it’s built, now it’s time to come and use it.

“Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.”

Shakespeare may not have been referring to the uptake of cleaner mobility but still the quote holds true. The slower the uptake of hydrogen mobility, the slower the curbing of the emissions that destroy our planet. Every kg of hydrogen that stays in a tank and doesn’t go into a vehicle is a wasted ~100km of emission-free driving. But what if every station was used to its maximum capacity? What would be the tangible benefits?

This graphic shows the status quo of the so-called hydrogen hotbeds that are California, Germany, Japan and South Korea. By considering the number of stations currently, the average capacity of the stations and the average range of an FCEV passenger car, it’s possible to get an idea of just how many emission-free miles go unused.

Technically, “emission-free” here refers to tail-pipe emissions. Of course, one must consider the caveat that not all hydrogen production is in fact “green”, but promisingly, that share is constantly increasing. And even so-called “grey” hydrogen leads to 30% less CO2 production well-to-wheel when compared to an internal combustion car (E6). From production to infrastructure, as the most experienced provider in the field, Linde is proud to be promoting hydrogen as a fuel for cleaner mobility and proactively driving the technology through its highly reliable and efficient solutions.

»Several regions have ambitious targets already set for the future with a recent report suggesting that there could be 3,600 stations globally by 2033.«

Under-realised potential: An overview of early hydrogen infrastructure by region.