Prime minister Boris Johnson put thoughts of the fuel crisis behind him for a few minutes yesterday as he climbed behind the wheel of a hydrogen car supplied by Swindon motor dealer Pebley Beach.
The Hyundai Nexo, powered purely by hydrogen, was supplied to British chemicals giant Ineos, which last year launched a clean hydrogen business to accelerate its own drive towards net zero carbon emissions.
The Nexo was wrapped in Ineos branding by another Swindon company – Smart Designs – before being driven to Manchester for the Conservative Party conference.
It was at the conference’s Exhibition Floor that the PM got into the driver’s seat of one of the world’s most innovative passenger cars.
“The government published its hydrogen strategy in August, and sees the benefits of using hydrogen to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets,” said Dominic Threlfall, managing director of Pebley Beach.
“This was an excellent opportunity to discuss hydrogen-powered motoring with policy-makers and those who influence government strategy.
“It was also a good opportunity to promote Swindon’s place at the forefront of the UK’s hydrogen revolution.”
The Nexo uses hydrogen to power an electric motor, using fuel cells developed by another Swindon-based company – Johnson Matthey.
The SUV, which emits nothing more harmful than water, is fitted with an advanced air purification system that actually cleans the air as it drives – removing 99.9 percent of particles from the air around it.
More than 200 years ago, French inventor Francois Isaac de Rivaz developed a primitive engine that was powered by hydrogen and oxygen and ignited by an electric spark.
Essentially, there are no moving parts, a chemical reaction that ‘fuels’ the action, which sees hydrogen enter the fuel cell from a tank and mix with oxygen to create H2O in a chemical reaction, which generates electricity that is used to power the motors that drive the wheels.
Hydrogen tanks are refuelled in a process that’s pretty much the same as with a petrol or diesel car. You just need to lock a pipe to the car and wait.
What are some of the advantages of hydrogen vehicles? We asked the Swindon-based Hydrogen Hub
– Faster refuelling: compared to recharging an electric car, a hydrogen vehicle can be fully fuelled in three to five minutes.
– No harmful emissions: the only thing to be emitted from a hydrogen fuel cell car is water.
– An impressive range: with a range of around 300 miles per tank, hydrogen cars are on a par with many conventional vehicles.
– Good efficiency levels: Fuel cell powertrains are much more efficient at getting energy out of hydrogen than traditional cars are at getting energy out of petrol or diesel.
And what about the disadvantages of hydrogen cars?
– Refuelling locations: there are currently only 17 refuelling stations in the UK and each station costs £1.3 million to build.
– Expense: Although the cost of fuelling a hydrogen car is similar to traditional fuels, developing the technology isn’t cheap and nor is storing or moving hydrogen itself.
– Perceived safety risk: hydrogen is flammable – but then again, so is petrol and that hasn’t stopped us from driving millions of petrol cars.
The Hydrogen Hub is an industry-led community of stakeholders from across the hydrogen and fuel cell supply chain, Government, local authorities, businesses and current and potential users.
It means there’s a lot of work happening in Swindon to develop hydrogen technology – and because it’s all happening in one place, it’ll see increased awareness, collaboration and exposure while also reducing costs.
And with a wide-ranging representation from companies and sectors, there are four different workstreams taking place:
Combined Heat and Power (CHP): a project to install a hydrogen fuel cell stack that will power alocal public buildings
Forklift trucks: a trial of fuel cell powered forklift trucks with an aim to roll out 75 in total
Buses: development of a plan to deploy fuel cell buses in Swindon
Cars: Arval is the executive sponsor of a workstream that’s also being supported by Toyota and Hyundai