The reliance on key energy producing countries such as Russia has been exposed in the recent crisis surrounding the invasion of Ukraine which has seen oil and natural gas prices surge to record levels. Though the shift towards net zero has been driving advances in renewable technology for a while now, many in the industry predict lessons learnt over energy dependency will further push innovation. “It’s definitely accelerated the transition away from fossil fuels” explains Tim Harper, CEO of hydrogen infrastructure firm Element 2.
“We’ve found that in the last three and a half weeks suddenly a lot of people are getting off the fence and just saying ‘how quickly can we move to hydrogen, where can we get the trucks from, how fast can we get the infrastructure in’.
“People have seen the writing on the wall, certainly for diesel.”
According to Mr Harper there is growing investor interest in green hydrogen in particular, as companies focus more on environmental credentials.
Currently hydrogen can be generated through a number of different processes with green hydrogen referring to hydrogen created without carbon emissions- such as using electricity to separate it from water.
The UK potentially has a significant advantage given the country’s sizeable wind farms able to generate the electricity to make green hydrogen rather than opting for blue hydrogen which still relies on using natural gas.
According to Mr Harper utilising the UK’s wind farms would remove the dependency on commodities such as gas and provide a useful store of power from excess electricity generated.
Unlike oil and gas which require large scale refineries hydrogen can also be produced locally at smaller scale.
According to Mr Harper this could vary from a farm with a few turbines to large scale offshore windfarms.
The technology for hydrogen has existed for a long time however so far it has proven cheaper to use petrol or diesel, however the balance is now starting to change.
Mr Harper predicts in a few years time green hydrogen will be competitive with diesel in terms of cost per mile.
Element 2 focuses on infrastructure for commercial vehicles such as HGVs which are better suited to hydrogen than electric due to the size of the batteries which would otherwise be required.
Unlike electric vehicles which have seen a growing charging network, the hydrogen network is still relatively limited though with around 15 public hydrogen stations, many of which are concentrated in the south.
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For commercial providers such as Element 2 the issue is easier to address as trucks typically travel for longer and carrying more fuel with truck stops providing ideal locations for hydrogen stations.
While hydrogen vehicles currently make up a very small number of private cars on Britain’s roads Mr Harper believes hydrogen may have future potential for some uses though.
“Where hydrogen really wins is larger vehicles or longer ranges” he explained.
“For anything SUV sized or bigger hydrogen probably works pretty well.”