Birmingham, UK: Stopping at the only green hydrogen station in Britain’s second-largest city, Birmingham, Kevin Kendall quickly fills up his sedan with clean gas. Green hydrogen is on the rise as governments seek to cut carbon emissions amid record high temperatures and protect energy supplies hit by oil and gas producer Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, the “hydrogen economy” did not take off in earnest waiting for significant adoption from polluting sectors such as steel and aviation. For Kendall, being an early user of green hydrogen means not having to wait in line during lunchtime trips to something akin to a gas pump. “There is very little green hydrogen being produced in the UK today,” the chemical engineering professor told AFP. “Now we have to move forward.”

In Birmingham, central England, it costs about £50 ($60) to fill Kendall’s Toyota Mirai with green hydrogen produced at a plant next to a refueling station. That’s about half what a diesel car of the same size would cost after the Ukrainian war soared in fossil fuel prices.

Despite the price advantage, there are only about 10 hydrogen refueling stations in the UK. Hydrogen is the most abundant element on earth, but because it is trapped in hydrocarbons such as water and natural gas, according to Kendall’s daughter Mikaela Kendall, hydrogen means “difficult to make.”

Together they founded Adelan. Adelan is a small company that makes box-shaped fuel cells similar to the metal cases used to power the Toyota Mirai. Founded 26 years ago, Adelan is the UK’s oldest liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) fuel cell manufacturer and also leases hydrogen vehicles for Japanese carmakers.

‘Increasingly attractive’

“The economics of green hydrogen have become more attractive since Russia invaded Ukraine,” Minh Khoi Le, head of hydrogen research at Rystad Energy, told AFP. “With the addition of many incentives globally in late 2022, green hydrogen appears to meet the energy system’s trilemma: energy security, affordability and sustainability.” The European Union cut consumption by 15% and strengthened its gas reserves.

Block also aims to significantly increase the supply of green hydrogen made from water through electrolysis and renewable energy. This contrasts with the more accessible blue hydrogen, which environmentalists oppose because it is produced from natural gas in a process that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

£9 billion investment

At Adelan’s Birmingham workshop, a quaint brick building surrounded by houses, staff test the company’s so-called solid oxide fuel cells, which will replace diesel generators. Michaela Kendall, the company’s chief executive officer overseeing this work, predicts that “hydrogen capacity will indeed increase, but it will take time.” It will be used for a while,” she predicts.

The UK government has set a target of net zero carbon emissions by the mid-20th century and has said £9bn of investment is needed “to make hydrogen the cornerstone of Britain’s greener future”. In Birmingham, in 2023 he will have 120 hydrogen buses arriving in the city, with around 10 hydrogen refueling stations planned for the next few years. Other British cities, including Aberdeen in Scotland, are following the same path. But “Only Los Angeles has had any significant success with things like 9,000 hydrogen cars and 40 hydrogen stations,” says Kevin. “That’s what we want Birmingham to be.”

electrical surge

Toyota cars resemble standard cars inside and out and are powered by electricity. It was produced by combining green hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell. Water vapor is the only waste produced by a vehicle with a range of 400 miles (640 kilometers).

Aderan’s Solid Oxide Fuel Cell, so named because the electrolyte is ceramic, is described as an “electrical device” that powers the battery. “It’s hydrogen compatible, but it tends to use hydrocarbon fuels because they’re readily available today,” she says. She uses “low-carbon sourced fuels” such as BioLPG.

The lack of hydrogen infrastructure means that drivers looking for greener alternatives to petrol and diesel are expected to continue buying electric vehicles. Despite electric car batteries taking longer to charge this year and electricity prices rising significantly, the UK will ban sales of new diesel and petrol cars from 2030. Britons are rapidly ditching polluting cars. For a green hydrogen production facility in the UK. – AFP

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