Transport Committee - Plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy?Written evidence from Air Products Plc

About Air Products PLC

Air Products is the world’s largest hydrogen manufacturer and the market leader in hydrogen fuelling stations. The company has built more than 130 fuelling stations worldwide and we are proud to be at the forefront of developing a hydrogen infrastructure for the UK.

There are nine Air Products hydrogen fuelling stations in the UK with four more at planning stage. We provide fuelling facilities to the Universities of Loughborough, Birmingham and Coventry as well as for the Isle of Stornoway, Transport for London and the Millbrook Proving Ground. We supply the hydrogen for London’s fuel cell buses and are leading the groundbreaking HyTEC project that will bring hydrogen powered taxis and scooters to the Capital.


We welcome the opportunity to give evidence to your inquiry on low carbon vehicles. As a key player in the hydrogen industry our evidence will focus on hydrogen transport. While hydrogen powered vehicles do qualify for the Plug-in Grant we recognise that the large part of this inquiry is to be focussed on electric vehicles.

Our evidence will therefore concentrate on three areas identified by the Committee that are relevant to hydrogen: The contribution of plug-in vehicles to decarbonising transport; the role of plug-in vehicles alongside other technologies to reduce carbon emissions from road transport; and the uptake of plug-in vehicles and how this can be improved.

Summary of Key Points

While we recognise that battery-electric cars will be part of a low carbon transport mix, we believe that the way to de-carbonise transport is through the use of hydrogen powered transport.

This is because we see hydrogen fuelled transport as far more efficient and effective than battery-electric transport which cannot offer the same range, performance and refuelling time as a hydrogen car which is on a par with conventional vehicles.

Government should look to create a market for hydrogen used in transport. In the short to medium term the Government could do this by incentivising the use of hydrogen in transport within the RTFO.

In the longer term the Government should be looking to supporting the production of renewable hydrogen.

The Contribution of Plug-in Vehicles to Decarbonising Transport

1. There is little doubt that battery-electric cars will play a part in a future low carbon transport mix. The problem is that they are not practical for the majority of the population and so take-up is always likely to be among a minority. Battery-electric vehicles take too long to recharge and cannot travel for long enough distances to be able to replace conventional vehicles and there is no obvious technology fix to solve this problem.

2. In addition, when hundreds of thousands of electric cars are being charged for several hours at a time during the same period of time, there will be considerable pressure on the grid which could potentially lead to “brown outs”. This is likely to occur at the same time as the peak domestic power demand when users arrive home in the evening. Hydrogen would be able to take some of the pressure off of the grid by reducing the amount of cars that are charged. So, while there may be a place for battery-electric vehicles, they cannot be the whole solution.

The Role of Plug-in Vehicles Alongside other Technologies to Reduce Carbon Emissions from Road Transport

3. A “hydrogen fuel cell—electric hybrid” vehicle has a much broader user-potential than current plug-in electric vehicles. As explained, the batteries used to power electric vehicles cannot offer the same range, performance and refuelling time of a conventional vehicle and will therefore be attractive only to a niche market. By contrast, electric-hydrogen hybrid vehicles can compete with conventional vehicles in terms of range, performance and refuelling time and like electric vehicles give off no emissions at the point of use.

4. Hydrogen also addresses the further problem of air pollution. The only emissions from a hydrogen vehicle, at the point of use, are water and energy. The UK is subject to the highest levels of dangerous traffic fumes of any country in Europe and most of these fumes are focussed on Britain’s cities. Air pollution is linked to respiratory disease, strokes and lower life expectancy as well as more minor ailments like eye and lung irritation.

5. A further benefit of hydrogen is that it addresses problems associated with the intermittent energy generated by renewable energy sources. The UK offers a vast resource in terms of renewable energy sources. In the future, it may be possible to generate large amounts of energy from this island’s access to offshore wind and tidal power. There have, however, been problems identified with wind and other renewable forms of energy because of their intermittent nature. The outcome of sourcing energy from most renewables is that the energy supply is subject to uncontrollable conditions, including seasonal variation and is therefore not available on demand.

6. For intermittent renewable energy sources to be effective there needs to be facilities for the energy produced to be stored and large-scale electricity storage is not possible with current technologies. Batteries are not suitable for this purpose because they typically lose energy over time and so would not be effective for long term energy storage. By contrast, hydrogen is a very efficient energy carrier. Excess energy created by a renewable energy source can therefore be used to generate hydrogen, which can be converted back to electricity to feed the grid when required or alternatively used to fuel cars.

Uptake of Plug-in Vehicles and how this can be Improved

7. The plug-in grant, in spite of the name, is open to all forms of transport with tailpipe emissions of 75g CO2/km. The Department for Transport explicitly names “hydrogen fuel cell vehicles” among those vehicles that qualify for the grant. However, to date (DfT figures December 2011) not one single hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has qualified for the grant. The reason for this is simple, there aren’t any hydrogen fuel cell vehicles available commercially available in the UK. But this is soon to change and in the next couple of years (according to most of the major car companies, by 2015) hydrogen cars will become commercially available in the UK.

8. The Government must, therefore, begin preparing for the commercialisation of hydrogen vehicles. It is good that they are already included in the plug-in grant, but this will not be enough to deliver a significant roll-out as we still lack the necessary infrastructure.

9. Government should look to create a market for hydrogen used in transport. In the short to medium term the Government could do this incentivising the use of hydrogen in transport within the RTFO. Most hydrogen is currently produced from natural gas reformation and therefore has some carbon emissions associated. Thus, like a battery-electric vehicle a hydrogen vehicle has no emissions at the point of use but can have some associated carbon emissions. It will be necessary to support “brown hydrogen” in the short term to create a market for it, before it is replaced by renewable “green hydrogen” in the future.

10. In the longer term the Government should be looking to support the production of large-scale, economically viable, renewable hydrogen. Current Government policy designed to support renewables actually discourages some methods of production of hydrogen from renewable sources because it incentivises the generation of renewable electricity at the expense of renewable hydrogen. We believe, Government should review its policy as a matter of urgency in order that it does not stunt the hydrogen industry in the UK.

April 2012

Prepared 20th September 2012