We’ve been having a lively discussion about fuel cell electric vehicles over here at CleanTechnica, and along comes the British Company ITM Power to stir the pot a little more. Last week, ITM unveiled its first ever public fueling station for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in the UK, located off the M1 in South Yorkshire. According to ITM, the M1 route is a linchpin of the UK’s strategy for early adoption of hydrogen vehicles, so if all goes well, you’re going to see a lot more where this is coming from.
Wind Down, Solar To Go For Renewable Hydrogen
For those of you new to the topic, hydrogen is an alluringly energy-dense fuel, but it is primarily sourced from fossil natural gas, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles’ performance is unable to match that of battery electric vehicles in various ways. In the US, the natural gas industry has been able to float the impacts of natural gas drilling under the radar until recently, as a patchwork of new studies has lifted the curtain on this supposedly “cleaner” fuel, including its waste disposal issues.
The good news for fuel cell EV fans is that renewable sources for hydrogen are possible. Sourcing from renewable biogas is one option, but so far it looks like most of the activity is focused on water-splitting using tidal, solar, or wind energy — aka power to gas.
That’s where ITM Power is coming from, with its new public hydrogen fuel station. If you happen to be driving the M1, get off at Junction 33 in South Yorkshire and go about two miles to the Advanced Manufacturing Park. Look for the 225-kilowatt wind turbine and that’s where you’ll find it.
The fuel station is actually part of an integrated hydrogen microgrid. The wind turbine powers an electrolysis system that produces hydrogen, which is stored in a 220 kilogram unit. Along with a dispenser for vehicles, the setup also includes a 30-kilowatt stationary fuel cell system, which could be called into action for nearby buildings in the Advanced Manufacturing Park as backup.
Fuel cell EV drivers should be aware that due to a step-by-step funding situation, you will get your hydrogen at 350 bar (bar refers to pressure) in the first phase of the project, which is being supported by Innovate UK. Next year, the UK’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles will fund an upgrade to 700 bar, which will provide your fuel cell EV with a higher range, enabling you to skip from South Yorkshire to the hydrogen fuel stations of London without worrying about where else to fuel up along the way.
The next project for ITM will be a solar-enabled hydrogen fuel station at the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence in the London area, supported by the HyFIVE project.
This site already has a 115 kilowatt solar array, and electricity from the array will be used to produce the hydrogen. The station will be deployed as part of the HyFIVE project, and if all goes according to plan, it will be ready for use around the middle of next year.
HyFIVE, by the way, is Europe’s public-private, soup-to-nuts hydrogen supply chain strategy for early adopters, involving 110 FCEVs provided by five auto manufacturers: Hyundai, Daimler, Honda, Toyota, and BMW. As part of the HyFIVE project, ITM’s overall contract for three hydrogen fuel stations will combine with a network of 12 other stations in Europe to ensure FCEV drivers of a “genuine” fuel option for long-distance travel.
From R2D2 to Microcab
Back to that wind-powered hydrogen fuel station: the launch was attended by four of the aforementioned five heavy hitters in the global auto business, and it also included a company called Microcab, which we never would have heard of before, except our sister site Gas2.org caught wind of the aptly named company’s pint-sized FCEV back in 2011.
Microcab is a spinoff of Coventry University, and for you Star Wars fans, guess what — it is the “brainchild” of the university’s professor of sustainable transport, John Joskins, who was instrumental in creating R2D2.
Microcab’s H2EV hydrogen fuel cell vehicle was first deployed back in 2012, in support of the CABLED (Coventry and Birmingham Low Emission Demonstrator) demo project in the West Midlands.
H2EV is a collaborative design between Microcab, Delta Motorsport, and Lotus, featuring a “state-of-the-art” 3-kilowatt fuel cell. The launch version had a range of about 100 miles.
Jostins, who is managing director of Microcab, had this to say back in 2012:
We’re thrilled to be launching our new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle into the CABLED trial here in the West Midlands. It’s our hope that the H2EV, in conjunction with the UK’s burgeoning hydrogen fuelling infrastructure, will cultivate interest in and funding for the UK’s niche vehicle sector, particularly in the field of low emissions automotive technologies where the West Midlands has excelled for years.
Three years later, and it looks like Microcab is in the right place at the right time.
FCEVs In The USA
Meanwhile, ITM Power has been busy over here in the US, too. In 2013, the company opened its first hydrogen fuel station in the US, in the California city of Chino, and it followed up with a second station in Riverside.
As a single-jurisdiction auto market larger than that of most countries, the state of California is the epicenter of hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure development in the US. Like it or not, it looks like the inevitable march of the hydrogen fuel cell really is inevitable. But how far will it actually march?
Image (cropped) via Microcab.