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Hydrogen. One solution to help decarbonise heavy duty & off-highway. But what about production, infrastructure, storage?

By October 20, 2022 No Comments

One of the reasons Hydrogen has suddenly stepped into the spotlight with gusto, is its ability to support the decarbonisation of the heavy duty, off-highway, aviation & marine sectors. With the ability to adapt ICE engines to run on H2, Hydrogen is certainly a game changer in the heavy duty, off-highway/agriculture, aviation & marine sectors.

As more & more manufacturers & developers of heavy duty/off-highway engines turn to Hydrogen as an alternative to ‘reinventing the wheel’ the commonality in the mindset is obvious.

We recently looked at how JCB & Cummins are developing Hydrogen ICE’s while keeping similar components & manufacturing chains intact.

JCB: Using and adapting established engine technology with readily available components, hydrogen is combusted and power is delivered in exactly the same way as a diesel engine. And now, the JCB prototype backhoe loader, fitted with this new hydrogen motor, can do everything its diesel-powered equivalent can do.  (1)

Cummins Inc.: “A hydrogen combustion engine fits in today’s vehicles, works with today’s transmissions, and integrates seamlessly into the industry’s existing service networks and practices,” Alison Trueblood, Cummins Executive Director – On-Highway Business Europe. (2)

The UK Government is backing the development of a Hydrogen economy & continues to roll out its support for R&D in the hydrogen sector.

The UK Government are supporting supermarkets, emergency services & delivery companies to trial hydrogen-powered transport solutions in the Tees Valley area in the North East, an area which produces more than half of the UK’s hydrogen.

Supermarket giant ASDA became the first UK retailer to use hydrogen fuel cells to power manual handling equipment, reducing its carbon footprint in the area by 80%. (3)

The six-month trial took place at its Skelmersdale Chilled Distribution Centre (CDC) in Greater Manchester & the cells were used to power equipment such as forklift trucks & order pickers.

In addition to this, a forklift truck for warehouse operations, passenger bus, & 10 fuel cell passenger cars were among the hydrogen vehicles Toyota deployed as part of one of the most extensive hydrogen research trials.

The hydrogen powered vehicles were given to the town’s emergency response services, such as the Cleveland Police Department’s emergency response teams & NHS patient assistance & the ongoing  goal of the research is to show how fuel cell-powered delivery vans have the potential to outperform conventional diesel vehicles in terms of range, refuelling periods, & speed.

However, one of the ongoing challenges for the development of Hydrogen as a future fuel for transport, is the infrastructure for storage & the fuelling networks needed to be rolled out across the UK.

Hydrogen production:

Although Hydrogen only produces water as a by product when it is utilised as a transport fuel; it is the processing of Hydrogen which still creates debate about it’s place in decarbonisation programmes as dependant on which process is used, grey & blue Hydrogen still produce carbon dioxide in its processing. The most obvious choice for the transport sector is green Hydrogen.

‘Green’ hydrogen, produced through electrolysis using renewable electricity, offers the largest emissions reductions compared to other forms of hydrogen energy. Scaling it up should be prioritised over ‘blue’ hydrogen – made using natural gas and carbon capture and storage (CCS) – which could lock us into reliance on fossil fuels in decades to come. (4)

Hydrogen storage:

Hydrogen storage is one of the challenging factors to making it more accessible to a wider variety of applications. Hydrogen can be stored physically as either a gas or a liquid or in underground caverns.

Storage of hydrogen as a gas typically requires high-pressure tanks (350–700 bar [5,000–10,000 psi] tank pressure).

Storage of hydrogen as a liquid requires cryogenic temperatures because the boiling point of hydrogen at one atmosphere pressure is −252.8°C. (5)

Salt caverns (underground) storage can store TWh of energy & are created by ‘solution mining’, where water is used to dissolve an underground space in a seam of rock salt, allowing hydrogen to be piped in and out. (6)

Hydrogen infrastructure & fuelling opportunities:

If not handled correctly, there is of course a safety concern with the storage, transportation & end user experience of fuelling a Hydrogen vehicle.

As of Feb 2022, there were 15 H2 fuelling stations across the UK. (7)  For the most part, Hydrogen is currently being produced where it is being used & moreover for industrial settings or for bespoke vehicular trials.

However, one of the UK companies forging forwards with Hydrogen infrastructure & transportation opportunities, is Ryze Hydrogen. Jo Bamford, son of Lord Bamford, chairman of JCB – is the founder & Executive Chairman of Ryze Hydrogen & is determined to grow the hydrogen economy, starting with transport.

Heavy duty & off-highway: the most challenging sectors for developing zero emissions options

The UK Hydrogen Strategy recognises that Large long-haul HGVs are the most challenging segment of the road sector for developing zero emission options due to their long journey distances and heavy payload requirements.

Some vehicles are in constant use and therefore require fast refuelling to meet operational requirements. (6) Likewise, off-highway & agricultural machinery also have similar workloads expected of them.

With this in mind, as part of the UK Gov. Hydrogen Strategy, they announced that they would be “investing up to £20 million this financial year in designing trials for electric road system and hydrogen fuel cell HGVs and to run a battery electric trial to establish the feasibility, deliverability, costs and benefits of these technologies in the UK”

Part of this investment has been the replacement of red diesel in the off-highway sector.

Off highway: red diesel replacement

Red diesel is reportedly responsible for the production of nearly 14 million tonnes of carbon each year & being a fuel used primarily for such off-highway purposes as bulldozers, excavators, tipper trucks & on-site generator sets.

Providing grant funding for the development & demonstration of low carbon alternatives to diesel for the construction, quarrying & mining sectors, the UK Government competition was designed with the aim of decarbonising industries reliant on red diesel & providing a platform for alternative research & development in this area. (8)

BEIS awarded £6.7 million in grant funding across 17 projects for Phase 1, with up to £460,000 per project. (8)

One of the successful projects ‘HYDRATE’ was awarded to Dolphin N2:

HYDRATE – Hydrogen Recuperated Advanced Thermal Engine

Lead Partner: Dolphin N2 Limited

Partners: University of Brighton; Costain Limited

Total grant: £448,611.78

The HYDRATE project will develop a Hydrogen version of the Recuperated Split Cycle Engine (RSCE), a highly innovative, fuel-agnostic thermal engine targeting heavy duty applications.

The RSCE offers very high efficiency (competitive with a PEM fuel cell), and very low emissions (SULEV with aftertreatment).

It also offers an easy route to transition to a net-zero economy, as it can use existing ICE manufacture and supply chains, and match existing ICE installation requirements, all with a moderate capital cost increase).

Written & cited by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2.