Fuel cell and hydrogen commercialisation is moving forward rapidly across the world.
The UK Government has estimated the potential market for low carbon hydrogen in the UK could be as high as 700TWh/year in 2050, the size of the current gas market1.
Globally, the Hydrogen Council roadmap presents a 2050 vision where the global annual sales of hydrogen technology and services reach £1.94 trillion and create jobs for 30 million people. The roadmap estimates that global demand for hydrogen could increase tenfold between 2015 and 2050, from 8 EJ to almost 802.
In the last several years, global market of stationary fuel cells has been developing rapidly, with an average growth rate of 37%3.
Currently, more than 100 UK companies, as well as over 35 academic and contract research groups highly active in fuel cells and hydrogen, are contributing to the creation of this promising, global industry.
The UK is home to leading international hydrogen supply and storage companies. Large global players such as Air Products and BOC/Linde have particular strengths in stationary gas and liquid fuel storage and handling, whilst others are developing novel hydrogen production solutions such as Silicon Fuel and Powerhouse Energy
Other players, such as ITM Power, Quantagen and Clean Energy Technologies, are working on the integration of hydrogen systems with renewable generation, including electrolysers and fuel cells.
The UK fuel cell industry is characterised by a number of world class system developers and integrators, active across a range of application areas. Companies such as Ceres Power, Intelligent Energy and Fuel Cell Systems are offering products for transport and stationary power markets.
Others are developing and supplying innovative materials and components; these include Johnson Matthey, Ceimig, JRE Precision and Pressure Tech.
“Fuel cells and hydrogen are ‘game changing’ technologies with extensive applications across transport, stationary power and beyond…”
Acting on behalf of these companies to accelerate the commercialisation of fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies is the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UK HFCA).
Launched in 2010 following the merger of Fuel Cells UK and the UK Hydrogen Association, the UK HFCA aims to provide a shared and powerful voice into government to help its members have improved access to, and awareness of, funding opportunities, both in the UK and at European level.
It also aims to deliver greater awareness of developments and business opportunities in the fuel cell and hydrogen sector for its members and improve the positioning of opportunities for fuel cells and hydrogen through outreach activities.
“Our members have come together to build a ‘common voice’ to accelerate the development and deployment of fuel cells and hydrogen energy in the UK,” UK HFCA Chair Amanda Lyne (left) tells gasworld in an exclusive interview.
“Fuel cells and hydrogen are ‘game changing’ technologies with extensive applications across transport, stationary power and beyond. Hydrogen, as an energy carrier, and fuel cells, as an enabling technology, will be critical in the delivery of a clean energy future.”
The founder of fuel cell technology company ACAL Energy and now commercial vehicle hydrogen technology specialist ULEMCo, Lyne has worked voluntarily for several years as the Chair, helping members and colleagues to work together to raise the profile of the technologies and benefits they offer for decarbonisation.
Having been familiar with the chemical industry properties and markets for hydrogen as an industrial gas for most of her career, it was during Lyne’s time at ACAL Energy that she became aware of the ‘energy vector’ role hydrogen could provide in the world’s future decarbonised energy system.
“It seems to me that the ubiquitous capability of hydrogen as a zero-carbon fuel (at point of use) is essential for us to deliver deep decarbonisation, particularly in sectors such as heavy-duty transport, heat, and industrial energy, which are all very difficult to change cost effectively with other solutions.”
The UK HFCA currently has nearly 40 members who cover fuel cell applications and the full hydrogen energy supply chain, including: Air Products, BOC, a member of Linde plc, BP, Ceres Power, ITM Power and AngloAmerican.
Since its inception nearly 10 years ago, the association has worked with the UK Government to set up the £23m ($30m) Hydrogen Transport scheme to get hydrogen refuelling stations and hundreds of fuel cell passenger cars on the road.
UK HFCA members have also worked alongside the British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA) to get hydrogen refuelling standards agreed for petrol station forecourts.
”…to make and distribute hydrogen cost-effectively, it needs scale and without a clear commitment for the role that hydrogen will have in the energy system, industry won’t make the decision to invest…”
There are currently more than 20 publicly accessible hydrogen stations across the UK either fully up and running or soon to be, plus a number dedicated to buses or commercial fleet use.
Lyne attributes these successes and the increasing momentum to the association’s ongoing campaigning work – profile raising across the political community, regular interactions with policy makers, input to a wide range of government consultations and a range of other activities.
But in order to scale up, Lyne says the UK is faced with a “chicken and egg” issue for transport where people won’t buy the vehicles if they can’t refuel and industry won’t make the vehicles if they don’t think there is sufficient investment in infrastructure.
“The challenge is that it needs cross sector collaboration to make it work. To make and distribute hydrogen cost-effectively, it needs scale and without a clear commitment for the role that hydrogen will have in the energy system, industry won’t make the decision to invest at scale to deliver the cost-down.”
As for production of hydrogen in the UK, Lyne says the country has some significant clusters around industrial chemical sites like the North West of England where hydrogen is produced for non-energy linked applications.
“There is work at foot to develop these assets and create new ones that meet the needs of the energy sector, including carbon capture use and storage as well as large scale electrolysis from wind and solar,” she says.
“The government is exploring the opportunities across the sectors for hydrogen to help reduce the cost or address the ‘hard to do sectors’ like industrial heat and heavy-duty transport, in the strategic thinking behind decarbonisation our energy systems.
“The government has commissioned a number of programmes and invested alongside industry to start the process. It is however not enough to make it happen.”
“Hydrogen energy will support delivery of deep-decarbonisation, particularly in the hard to do sectors such as industrial heat and heavy-duty transport and due the long-term nature of the assets deployed in these sectors. But it needs to happen now, or we’ll miss the 2050 climate change targets.”
 HM Government, Clean Growth Strategy, October 2017, p.151 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/clean-growth-strategy