How hydrogen can help councils improve air quality

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 22nd May 2020 by Buta Atwal.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the world, yet its potential as a clean, green, zero emission fuel is only beginning to be realised.

Hydrogen buses, cars, trains, bin lorries, police cars and ambulances exist and are in use today. These vehicles emit only water as they move, and Hyundai claims their NEXO hydrogen car “cleans the air as it drives”. According to an experiment they ran in collaboration with University College London, in 350 miles the car cleaned 918.75kg of air on London roads, “the same amount of air that one adult breathes in 60 days or 1,455 adults breathe in one hour”.

Whilst the focus is of course on dealing with the immediate impact of Covid-19, councils and public service are increasingly looking to hydrogen to play a major role in their plans to improve air quality and tackle their local climate emergency as part of a local, green economic recovery.

Wrightbus, a bus manufacturer based in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, has produced the world’s first hydrogen electric double decker bus. Whilst our operating climate is understandably tough at the minute due to the COVID-crisis, the first fleets of these will enter London and Aberdeen later this year, powered by hydrogen produced in the north west of England. We are also in advanced conversations with several other authorities.

Overall, we are aiming to deliver 3,000 hydrogen buses, which would be about 10% of the country’s total fleet, into towns and cities across the country by 2024. These buses will be powered by green hydrogen produced from five Ryse Hydrogen production plants connected to offshore wind farms around the UK coastline.

Local authorities are trialing other uses in hydrogen. According to a report recently published by the North West Hydrogen Alliance:

  • Northern Rail are identifying routes that are suitable for running hydrogen trains along.
  • Cheshire East Council is looking to create a fleet of hydrogen-fuelled refuse vehicles.
  • The Port of Liverpool is taking steps to convert to hydrogen fuel, alongside other alternatives, in the development of its Port Air Quality Strategy.

Looking further ahead, huge, world-leading trials are taking place to build the technology required to convert the domestic gas grid, which serves 23 million homes, to hydrogen.

There are only two options for decarbonising transport, battery electric and hydrogen. Councils will need to take a thorough assessment to decide the best mixture of these technologies for their local area, but the general rule is that battery electric is better for shorter bus routes and lighter vehicles, and that hydrogen is better for longer bus routes and heavier vehicles.

Due to the air quality and climate emergency issues facing councils across the country, it is inevitable that the next few years will see a significant increase in hydrogen technology deployed by councils.

By choosing hydrogen technology, councils, working in collaboration with the central government, will also be making a decision to invest in UK jobs and supporting growth in a green economic recovery. Businesses and organisations across the country will play a key role across the whole hydrogen sector – from research, to training ,manufacturing, implementation and use. There is an opportunity to create and sustain hundreds of thousands of hydrogen jobs, and place the UK as world leaders in this exciting form of low carbon technology.

The UK is not alone in seeing opportunities in hydrogen. The European Commission sees green hydrogen as “critical” to meet their 2050 decarbonisation targets and are in the process of establishing a “10 billion euro fund, administered by the European Investment Bank, to offer loans to projects for renewable energy and clean hydrogen. Other nations, including Germany, Australia, Japan, South Korea and China all have hydrogen strategies.

By central government assisting local authorities to invest in hydrogen in a co-ordinated and strategic way, they will be supporting the UK to stay in the race to become global leaders in this exciting low carbon technology.

About the Author

This post was written by Buta Atwal. Buta is the Chief Executive of Wrightbus.