There is a not-so-silent revolution afoot in transportation fueled by hydrogen. While headlines about hydrogen-powered automobiles are quite common, other transportation modalities are beginning to incorporate hydrogen to power our everyday mobility needs. Transportation is being made cleaner and more efficient by public and private initiatives around the world to power freight, air, marine, and even trains using the number one element.
For instance, in December CNET reported on Hyundai Motor Group’s $6.7 billion investment that “will see the company produce 700,000 fuel-cell systems annually by 2030.” Also, the nearly $120 million in funds committed by France last year “for the deployment of hydrogen in industry, mobility, and energy” will begin to be utilized starting this year. Additionally, Japan who has “one of the most progressive plans for the use of hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles (FCEV), given their strategy to build out the Hydrogen Highway with hundreds of hydrogen fueling stations, plans to halve the cost of building a hydrogen fueling station by 2020,” according to the CleanTech Group.
All types of hydrogen-powered vehicles, like this double-decker bus in London, are becoming commonplace.
Today, we explore how hydrogen mobility began to accelerate across all types of public and private transportation in 2018 as the following examples show:
Hydrogen Taxis and Fleets
While hydrogen taxis have been available in Paris and London for several years now, more cities began trials and launched operations for hydrogen taxis and private-hire fleets in 2018 including Aberdeen, Hamburg, and Dubai. Early last year the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai conducted a pilot program with taxis powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The taxis are specially modified models of a Toyota Mirai that can travel up to 500 kilometers on a single charge. Another example of a practical application is the Zero Emission Fleet Vehicles for European Roll-out (ZEFER), which took to the streets of London in May as part of a pilot that will expand to include Paris and Brussels. An article in The Engineer suggests, “the project [consisting of 180 vehicles] is designed to explore how hydrogen fleets perform in the real world, and the cars will be deployed as taxis and private hire vehicles (170) as well as police cars (10), driving long distances each day and requiring rapid refueling.”
The latest Economist Technology Quarterly ran an article entitled, The Great Freight Race, which opened with the bold statement: “Lorries can help deliver the hydrogen economy.” They go on to explore how Nikola, a startup that manufactures hydrogen-powered trucks in Arizona, has turned upside down the notion that an electric engine powered by hydrogen is not powerful enough to operate freight because of the weight and volume required to move goods over long distances. Among the early adopters is Anheuser-Busch, who “has a long history of finding creative ways to move beer,” according to CNN. Last year, they placed an order for “up to 800 semi-trucks powered by hydrogen gas as part of a bid to make its entire fleet of long-haul trucks run on clean energy.” Just last week, Toyota announced plans to build, in collaboration with Kenworth, a fleet of 10 hydrogen-powered trucks that will operate in Los Angeles. In addition, German-based Keyou is developing and supplying hydrogen conversion engine parts to heavy duty and large engine manufacturers like Deutz for long-haul trucks while also building an accompanying hydrogen fueling infrastructure. These collective efforts, alongside those of many others around the world, “may put the world’s truckers closer to the post-carbon era.”
In September, Engadget reported that the first zero-emission hydrogen-powered trains entered into service in Lower Saxony, Germany, “working the line between Cuxhaven and Buxtehude just west of Hamburg…all the while spewing nothing more than water. Hydrogen gives it the freedom to run on non-electrified rails, and it’s considerably quieter than diesels―helped in part by batteries that store unused energy.” The Engadget story indicated that other countries, including France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Italy, and Canada are also looking into hydrogen trains. Last week, The Telegraph wrote about plans to introduce a version of these hydrogen trains by “French rail multinational Alstom and UK rolling stock operating company (ROSCO) Eversholt Rail Group,” which is scheduled to be introduced into the UK market by 2022.
The Economist Technology Quarterly also recently explored the use of hydrogen in the aviation industry, which accounts for 3% of carbon emissions. This is important because globally the number of passengers is expected to double in size by 2040, which could “push up today’s emissions of 1bn tonnes of CO2 a year to at least 1.7bn tonnes, mostly from long-haul flights.” Fortunately, the industry has committed to halving its carbon emissions by 2050. The article highlights ongoing research efforts to make synthetic fuels “that could be used as ‘drop-in’ fuels in existing engines.” One of the companies mentioned in the article is Carbon Engineering, a Canadian firm backed by Bill Gates. The article explains how CO2 is converted into carbon monoxide and combined with clean hydrogen “using the 100-year old Fischer-Tropsch process to make liquid fuels, all powered by renewable energy.” Additionally, manufacturers―from Boeing and Lockheed in the U.S., to Airbus in Europe, and Tupolev in Russia―are experimenting with hydrogen-powered airplanes.
In November, GasWorld covered an initiative to create a system of hydrogen “mobile refuellers” to make hydrogen bicycles a viable option for urban transport. They wrote, “NanoSUN will develop a hydrogen refueling system for Pragma’s range of fuel cell Pedelec e-bikes…which can reach full charge in just two minutes.” Development of the mobile refuelers is expected to be completed by mid-year 2019. The partnership GasWorld highlighted is aimed at making hydrogen fuel readily available everywhere. In the future, hydrogen bikes may make the difference between bicycles and motorcycles less pronounced as larger players enter the market. For instance, Honda filed a patent for a hydrogen-powered motorbike early last year.
Hydrogen is also beginning to make its way into enabling more efficient and clean shipping. For instance, Viking Cruises announced plans to build a cruise ship powered by hydrogen. IEEE Spectrum points out, “About two dozen early projects have shown that fuel cells are technically capable of powering and propelling vessels.” In September, yours truly announced a partnership with MarineMax, the world’s largest boat and yacht retailer, whose aim is to develop, manufacture, and sell propulsion and auxiliary boat power systems capable of running on hydrogen extracted from seawater using Hydrogen 2.0 technology for the worldwide marine industry. In an interview with MarineMax’s Founder and Former CEO, Bill McGill explained, “The ability to generate your power from the water that surrounds you is simply transformative. From the hydrogen of the water surrounding your vessel, you will be able to operate reciprocating engines or fuel cells while you sleep to produce electricity, silently, with no emissions. Our first Hydrogen 2.0 application will be in this area.”
Planet-Friendly Everyday Transportation, Courtesy of the Number One Element
Thanks to the creative efforts of organizations, large and small, hydrogen is well positioned to play an increasing role in all areas of everyday transportation―from trucks and trains to bikes and boats. As technology continues to evolve and innovations come to market, ever more practical applications of hydrogen energy in transportation will propel civilization forward sustainably.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.