Hydrogen-powered cars are set to become an increasingly common sight on UK roads by the 2020s as new models are announced and infrastructure investment plans revealed
Leading motoring manufacturers are preparing to launch hydrogen-powered cars within the next two years. Toyota, Honda, Audi and Volkswagen are all developing new models, while a handful of Hyundai vehicles are already available in the UK.
The fuel cells in hydrogen cars generate electricity by combining hydrogen, stored in high-pressure tanks, and oxygen. Only water is emitted from the exhaust. They can cover up to 300 miles before refuelling, which takes just a few minutes at a pump, whereas battery electric cars can take hours to recharge and most have a far lower range.
The Toyota Mirai – meaning ‘future’ in Japanese – is launching in Japan by the end of 2014 and is set to be the world’s first mass-produced fuel cell car. Up to 100 will be available in Europe, mainly the UK and Germany, from mid-2015 and Toyota plans to produce tens of thousands by the 2020s.
Honda plans to release its hydrogen-powered FCV in Japan in March 2016, with Europe and the US to follow.
Six of Hyundai’s ix35 cars have already been delivered in the UK to business customers and Transport for London, and the vehicle is now available for orders from the public.
Kit Malthouse, the deputy mayor of London for business and enterprise, predicts that hydrogen fuel cell technology “will eventually replace the internal combustion engine”.
In October during a trip to Japan, minister for business and enterprise Matthew Hancock announced up to £11 million to help prepare the UK for hydrogen-powered cars.
“We want to make the UK one of the best places in the world to design, manufacture and sell ultra-low emission vehicles,” he said.
The money will be used to set up 15 hydrogen refuelling stations by the end of 2015 but also includes £2 million for public sector hydrogen vehicles.
In 2013 the UKH2Mobility project, which involved 12 industry parties and three government departments, recommended an initial network of 65 stations to serve population centres and major roads. It said the number could grow to 1,150 by 2030.
Japan, Germany, Scandinavia and California all have ambitious programmes for hydrogen refuelling networks.
Although hydrogen cars do not emit any greenhouse gases when driven, most hydrogen in Europe is steamed out of natural gas and produces carbon dioxide as a by-product.
In addition to this and the lack of refuelling stations, hydrogen fuel cells are currently less efficient and more expensive to operate than battery electrics.
However, green groups welcomed the announcement of new commercially available hydrogen fuel cell cars as a positive development.
People and Planet campaigns manager Andrew Taylor told Positive News: “We welcome new investment in hydrogen cars as part of the solution to avoiding dangerous climate change. The oil lobby has held back their development for many years.”
Greg Archer, programme manager for sustainable transport campaign group Transport and Environment added: “Electromobility, whether from electric or hydrogen fuel cell cars, can make mobility more sustainable – low carbon, free of air pollution and noise.”
“This is probably the last chance for hydrogen to establish a foothold in the emerging market for low carbon vehicles. Both energy suppliers and vehicle manufacturers must make serious investments in hydrogen and governments provide complementary policy support.”