Plans include £105m of funding to support a new £4bn hydrogen economy

The government has launched its plans to create a “world-leading hydrogen economy”, bringing the gas into our everyday lives to help combat greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation will play a big part in the plans, though predominantly in fuelling freight vehicles and public transport. 

In the UK Hydrogen Strategy, which is the first such strategy ever created for the country, the government outlines how it aims to meet the ambition of 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production by 2030. This amount is equivalent to replacing the natural gas required to power around three million homes each year, as well as supporting the move to hydrogen by heavy transportation, and heavy industry such as construction.

According to government figures, moving towards a hydrogen economy could be worth the best part of £1bn to the economy and create 9000 jobs by 2030 – the deadline for the end of new petrol and diesel car sales. By 2050, the figures could be up to £13bn and 100,000 new jobs.

At the same time, adding hydrogen into our fuels mix will help the government achieve its plan of net zero by 2050 and a 78 per cent reduction in emissions by 2035.

Moving heavy transportation away from fossil fuels

We’ve long known that hydrogen-powered personal transport is going to be the exception rather than the rule in future. Hydrogen’s potential is far greater in powering heavy transportation such as buses, lorries and trains – as we alluded to in our feature exploring the future of hydrogen

The UK Hydrogen Strategy reckons that transportation will be one of the biggest components of the so-called hydrogen economy by demand, totalling around 140TWh by 2050. Before 2030, a far more modest figure of 6TWh is expected to be required as part of heavy transportation’s move to cleaner fuel. It does, however, recognise that in some areas of transportation, technology will need investment to catch up, and the government is looking to work with private business to ensure this happens.

Breaking it down by sector, public transport is one of the most obvious ways we – as consumers – will encounter hydrogen in future. The ‘Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas’ scheme is providing £120m of funding in 2021/22 to support the adoption of 4000 hydrogen or battery electric buses. Two per cent of the UK’s bus fleet is already powered by hydrogen. Rail is also going to move towards hydrogen on lines which make no economic sense to electrify.  

HGVs, specifically those used in long-distance haulage, are one of the more challenging types of transport to electrify. Currently, the government is investing £20m in a feasibility study for both battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks.

Other heavy vehicles such as refuse collection trucks and diggers do lend themselves more to hydrogen, with the former being short distance and depot-based, and the latter already subject to development as having either on-board fuel cells to replace diesel, or using site-based fuel cells (such as those created by AFC Energy) to operate on electricity. To promote the removal of diesel from construction, quarrying and mining, the government is undertaking a £40m Red Diesel Replacement Competition to help drive alternatives.

Business & Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Today marks the start of the UK’s hydrogen revolution. This home-grown clean energy source has the potential to transform the way we power our lives and will be essential to tackling climate change and reaching Net Zero.

“With the potential to provide a third of the UK’s energy in the future, our strategy positions the UK as first in the global race to ramp up hydrogen technology and seize the thousands of jobs and private investment that come with it.”

Blue vs. Green hydrogen

One of the things that needs to be ironed out if the hydrogen economy is to be of true environmental benefit is where the hydrogen comes from. Both ‘green hydrogen’ – which is derived from water and only leave oxygen as a by-product – and ‘blue hydrogen’ – which is extracted from fossil fuels and is potentially more harmful than natural gas – are included in schemes currently under development.

There’s pressure from some groups to drop the use of blue hydrogen altogether, given its potential for harm, however the government has stated that it will set out standards for emissions capture to help negate the damage that its creation can cause. Furthermore, the Committee on Climate Change had advised that a pathway to 2035 for the use of both green and blue hydrogen should be included in the UK Hydrogen Economy report. It is hoped that this will follow and set out a strategy that favours green hydrogen.

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