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Diesel, Batteries or Hydrogen? That is the Question

Disel, Batris neu Hydrogen? Dyna yw’r Cwestiwn

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Written by Graham Williams, Transport Decarbonisation Project Manager with Ambition North Wales.

“Nobody sells hydrogen vehicles in the UK and even if they did, nobody sells hydrogen!” I hear you cry.

You're partly right. There aren't currently any hydrogen trucks on the open market, and we have fewer hydrogen filling stations in the region than we have camels in the Welsh Mountain Zoo. However, things are quickly changing.

But first, let me explain why hydrogen will be key to developing a sustainable North Wales.

The Why:

Finding a zero-emission transport solution has never been more important, particularly for heavy or high availability vehicles. Technology is developing rapidly and the decarbonisation of transport needs actioning immediately to ensure a greener future. We need to find a viable solution that enables the continued movement of goods and people, whilst ensuring we respond to climate change realities.

Why diesel and batteries are not the answer:

The debate about diesel or batteries is becoming obsolete. The new diesel truck you buy today could be the last one. Why? During its lifetime, the production of new diesel trucks will stop.

What about batteries? Well, let's explain how battery vehicles work. The heavier a vehicle is, the more energy it needs. The more energy needed, the heavier the batteries.  As the batteries get heavier, less weight is available for the payload.  Smaller payloads mean more journeys are needed, which gives us more traffic.  Recent battery advances will make inroads into regional and local delivery vehicles, but none of the manufacturers are proposing batteries for the long-haul heavy trucks.

Imagine how long it would take to recharge large lorry batteries and imagine the impact that would have on delivery schedules.  The time parked up for recharging can have implications for driver hours legal limits, delays in the supply chain, and inefficiency.

Can you imagine the emergency services being unable to move because they are waiting to charge up? Or road gritters delayed because it snowed for longer than expected?

In comes Hydrogen:

Hydrogen is rocketing up the agenda of the Welsh and UK Governments. There is sound agreement that it provides a significant opportunity for decarbonising whole sectors of our economy, particularly high temperature and heavy industries.  The UK Hydrogen Strategy signals the beginning of a significant industrial-scale investment into producing hydrogen for decarbonisation.

The use of green hydrogen for transport is fundamentally a thing of beauty.  You take the energy from the weather to power a machine (electrolyser), add some water- hydrogen comes out. Capture the hydrogen, compress it, put it in a fuel tank and you’re good to go.

What we are doing about it:

We have an abundance of renewable energy that will make a serious impact on our region’s contribution towards net zero.  Ambition North Wales has allocated £11.4 million towards decarbonising regional transport networks, with a demonstrator hydrogen hub in Deeside currently in its concept stage.  This will see hydrogen vehicles on our streets long before you need to change the new diesel truck you bought today.   We aren’t the only ones making a difference, social enterprise Menter Môn is pursuing the ‘green’ hydrogen hub ambition at Holyhead.

The future is coming to us here in North Wales quicker than most people thought just a year ago, and the first brushstrokes of the hydrogen picture are now being applied.

However, it’s not that easy just yet, as I mentioned earlier, there aren’t any hydrogen trucks to buy. However, we’re working with the governments and taking steps to unfreeze the situation by considering interventions on both demand and supply.

The UK government proposes to support hydrogen production with capital grants and then to support the retail price so that hydrogen becomes competitive with diesel. They plan to have this in place in 2023.  We will have to wait for the final details, but this would assist the supply side.

With regards to the demand side, several interventions can incentivise producers to adapt foreign market hydrogen vehicles for use in the UK, support vehicle operators in the transition, and train people to maintain the new technology- a new green hydrogen economy.

How it affects you:

The opportunity is clear. Hydrogen will bring new well-paid jobs in an industry packed with regional growth, as well as the potential for becoming international.

Zero-emission transport is becoming a necessity, but we won’t just comply with legislative changes – we will rise to the challenge – and prosper the process.

If you operate heavy vehicles or want to explore commercial opportunities that could become available, please contact [email protected].