Wales as a country can lay claim to a special place in the hydrogen economy, with the fuel cell being invented in 1842 by none other than William Grove of Swansea.
Sir William (as he became known) may have been underwhelmed by our reliance on coal, oil and gas over the past 180 years – and he would also probably have to accept that the 2050 picture of a decarbonised economy is likely to be composed of a blend of energies working in harmony to meet the many needs of individuals, communities, industries and infrastructures. But, one thing is sure, low carbon Hydrogen will undoubtedly be a significant feature in that picture, as its potential for reducing Green House Gas emissions is increasingly being recognised by Governments around the world; and it’s already being mooted as a key pillar in the Welsh Government’s Low Carbon Delivery Plan (LCDP) due to be unveiled in November 2021.
A key pillar of the Welsh Government Low Carbon Delivery Plan – with pioneering proposals for cars, buses and trains across CCR
The eagerly-awaited LCDP will build on the direction of the Welsh Government report published in January 2021 and updated in April, which effectively set out a pathway for developing the hydrogen energy sector as a vital component in our transformation towards net-zero – playing a central role in activities to 2025, which focus on short-term actions whilst starting to plan for larger-scale projects in the mid-to-long-term.
CCR has already begun the H2 journey- as home to pioneering proposals for hydrogen to be deployed as the fuel cells for cars, buses and trains in our region. And indeed, South East Wales may well be at the forefront of creating an early market for hydrogen-powered energy, developing ‘place-based’ hydrogen opportunities across the region as well as taking a lead in the essential domestic refit of all homes, ready to be fueled by this clean and sustainable energy.
The Proposed Hydrogen Pathway
This hydrogen pathway for CCR and the rest of Wales is built around ten key objectives, each aimed at generating momentum in the Welsh hydrogen sector and laying the foundations for scale-up and commercial deployment from the end of the 2020s.
The objectives cover both hydrogen supply and end use, focusing on short-term opportunities where the commercial case is more developed, with areas of activity that include:
- Deployment of 200 fuel cell buses in a town, city or region in Wales. Fuel cell buses have already been trialled across the UK and the technology is ready for deployment in larger fleets, which will benefit from economies of scale. This initiative will create a consistent demand for low-carbon hydrogen and help CCR and Wales meet its target for all buses to be zero-emission by 2028.
- Establishing CCR and Wales as an early market for commercial fuel cell vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell vans and trucks are at an earlier stage of development than buses, but initiatives to coordinate demand for them are already underway at a UK level. These include plans to develop standard specifications for vehicles which can be purchased at a scale which will attract vehicle manufacturers to bring fuel cell vans and trucks to the UK market. Engaging with these initiatives will help bring zero-emission vans and trucks to our region sooner and prepare for large-scale commercial deployments.
- Supporting vehicle manufacturers such as Riversimple, a Monmouthshire-based designer and manufacturer of fuel cell electric vehicles. This revolutionary company is developing a two-seater hydrogen fuel cell car and is looking for a number of ‘local’ sites to manufacture the vehicle from 2022/23. We’ll be investigating the Riversimple business in greater detail later in this series, to discover the potential for scalability and employment in the fuel cell manufacturing sector.
- Attracting vehicle integrators to Wales. There’s currently a lack of fuel cell vehicle options offered by vehicle manufacturers – providing an opportunity for vehicle integrators who can convert existing diesel or battery electric vehicles into hydrogen dual fuel or fuel cell range-extender vehicles. Rob O’Dwyer, Head of Infrastructure at CCR, has already noted that hydrogen performs better as a fuel in mountainous topography, while electricity scores higher on more even terrain, so coordinating demands for such vehicles where pure battery electric is not suitable, within the Welsh public sector fleets, would send a clear signal to the market of the potential for orders at a sufficient scale to attract vehicle integrators to establish bases in our region, leading to valuable job opportunities.
- Deploying fuel cell trains. Replacing diesel trains with hydrogen fuel cell trains would provide a decarbonisation solution for our region. This is central to our Passenger Rail Vision, with future rolling stock orders compatible with the UK Government’s target for no diesel-only trains by 2040 and the broader Net Zero 2050 target.
- Establishing at least one renewable hydrogen production site of 10+ MW by 2023/24. The business case for local renewable hydrogen production can be developed if there is sufficient demand for low-carbon hydrogen from the transport sector – presenting Wales with the opportunity for one or more 10 MW hydrogen production sites.
- Scoping large-scale hydrogen production sites. Hydrogen provides a route to decarbonisation for many difficult-to-decarbonise sectors – and given the time required to develop hydrogen production at scale, there’s a need to begin planning low carbon/renewable hydrogen production and delivery facilities in parallel with the deployment of the initial smaller scale facilities.
- Supporting industrial decarbonisation through skills development and R&D. There’s a need for further research and development into how our industrial clusters can best decarbonise – and a skills gap for bridge for industrial fuel switching and the wider scale use of hydrogen as a fuel for industry. This presents an opportunity for our region to develop industrial decarbonisation expertise – and export those skills and associated training to other industrial clusters. As David Jukes, Programme Development Director of Costain Group plc and a leading figure in the South Wales Industrial Cluster asserts: “We can either decarbonise or be decarbonised”, with the former option presenting major multi-billion-pound economic advantages for Cardiff Capital Region.
- Supporting local projects and place-based approaches. Developing hydrogen projects creates opportunities to engage with the wider community through the place-based and challenge fund philosophy of CCR – helping bring a more inclusive prosperity to a greater number of communities in our region.
- On-going engagement with other hydrogen initiatives. There’s a range of existing hydrogen initiatives which will further develop the hydrogen sector in our region, bringing opportunities to attract investment in manufacturing/assembly plants for hydrogen-fuelled appliances, taking advantage of the existing skills base and supporting the growth of indigenous SMEs as they diversify into hydrogen activities throughout the value chain.
Realising The Hydrogen Vision Across Our Region
The overall level of real-world trials and deployment of hydrogen in energy applications in our region and Wales as a whole remains relatively low. The hydrogen energy sector is not yet fully commercialised, with most projects established over the past five to ten years typically relying heavily on public funding.
The race to zero by 2050 is the catalyst that is about to change all that – and South Wales is home to a significant number of organisations with an interest and expertise in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, including academic and research centres, large industrial organisations and innovative start-up companies. There have been several pre-commercial demonstration projects involving hydrogen in energy applications in Wales over many years, and the pipeline of potential opportunities has expanded significantly in recent months – with the range of projects and the depth of existing hydrogen experience providing a solid foundation for further development of energy applications.
Collaborations between SMEs, academia and industrial clusters are critical
The Cardiff Capital Region has built an enviable reputation for its world-leading hydrogen research and development projects and facilities, with the Gas Turbine at Cardiff University and the Hydrogen Centre of the University of South Wales conducting wide-ranging research into hydrogen and related fields. The region is also home to SMEs such as Riversimple and Huxtec (the Newbridge-based engineering consultancy focused on sustainability and low-carbon technologies, with a particular emphasis on hydrogen fuel cells).
The recent establishment of the South Wales Industrial Cluster (SWIC), the Hydrogen Reference Group (set up by the Welsh Government) and HyCymru (the trade association for the Welsh hydrogen economy) will only increase the collaborations, knowledge share and innovation within our region in this burgeoning sector – especially as our region also benefits from expertise in the safe generation, storage, transport, and use of hydrogen (mainly as an industrial gas), which together with a strong oil and gas presence, provides a core skills base that can be redeployed towards emerging hydrogen activities at scale, giving our region a further competitive advantage in the rapidly expanding hydrogen economy.
An all-Wales approach that connects rural and marine resources with urban populations and industrial areas
While real-world deployment of hydrogen technologies is sparse, there’s much on-going work exploring the role of hydrogen in meeting Wales’ net zero target and on feasibility studies seeking to develop further technology trials and deployment. Such feasibility studies are not confined to the Cardiff Capital Region with activities in North, Mid, West and South Wales all identified for their high potential. There’s excellent scope, therefore, to develop an all-Wales approach which connects Wales’ plentiful rural and marine resources with end-use hydrogen applications at scale in its urban areas of population and industry. Wales’ small size, strong infrastructure networks and ports, skills base and readily available internal markets can provide a platform for deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies – and in the months to come we’re looking forward to reporting on the progress of the CCR projects and wider programmes that will bring both regional and pan-Wales benefits.