January 22, 2021

Hydrogen Energy for Transport


September 2020 saw the first trial of hydrogen powered train, called HydroFlex, to run on a UK mainline. Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE), worked to develop the low carbon vehicle, a retrofit Class 319 train allowing it to run on conventional electrified routes as well as independently. The next phase of HydroFLEX will be the development of a hydrogen and battery-powered module that can be fitted underneath the train, which will allow for more space for passengers in the train’s carriage. Tees Valley is planned as the UK’s first hydrogen transport hub.

In Germany, Siemens Mobility and Deutsche Bahn have started developing hydrogen-powered fuel cell trains and a filling station which will be trialled in 2024 with view to replace diesel engines on German local rail networks. The prototype, to be built by Siemens, and known as ‘Verve’, is based on electric railcar Mireo Plus which will be equipped with fuel cells to turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity on board, and with a battery.

The Department of Transport are looking to deploy the technology by 2023 to retrofit current in-service trains to hydrogen, helping decarbonise the rail network and make journeys greener and more efficient.

The train combines the possibility to be fed by three sources in a modular system – either by the battery, the fuel cell or even existing overhead lines, depending on where it would run. German railway operator Deutsche Bahn has not electrified 40% of its 33,000 kilometre (km) long network, on which it runs 1,300 fossil-fuel emitting diesel locomotives. The new prototype will be fuelled within 15 minutes, have a range of 600 km and a top speed of 160 km/hour. It is anticipated that up to 15,000 trains in Europe that will need to be replaced over the next 10-15 years, with 3,000 alone in Germany.


A number of UK Councils, including London, Aberdeen and Glasgow, have moved to convert their fleet of refuse trucks/buses to hydrogen powered. Most of the existing bus fleets operating across the UK will not be allowed to operate within City Centres due to emission laws being introduced and to take effect from 2030.

The world’s first double-decker hydrogen buses arrived in Aberdeen, in October 2020, a city best known as a base for some of the world’s top oil companies. The 15 buses will give Aberdeen one of the world’s biggest fleets of hydrogen buses.

Transport for London (TfL) is due to take delivery of 20 as part of it’s drive to make London’s transport zero- emission. It follows the introduction of the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone last month.
TfL is investing £12m in the new buses and the fuelling infrastructure. To encourage the take-up of the technology in other cities in the UK and Europe, TfL is leading procurement within the ‘Joint Initiative for hydrogen Vehicles across Europe’ (JIVE) project. JIVE aims to bring down the cost of the vehicles by buying in bulk with other authorities – helping put the price per bus on a par with the other cleanest fuels.


Airbus is currently collaborating with both airports and airlines to ensure the necessary hydrogen infrastructure is in place. This includes research into how all airport-associated ground transport (i.e. cargo trucks, passenger buses, aircraft tugs, etc.) could be decarbonised throughout the 2020’s timeframe using a stepped approach, which is expected to pave the way to hydrogen availability for aircraft over the 2030’s timeframe.

A recent IEA study suggests that repurposing existing infrastructure, including the millions of kilometers of pipelines used today to transport natural gas, could be a cost-effective solution. Larger quantities of hydrogen could thus be transported via pipeline from production sites, while smaller quantities could be transported by truck. In addition, some airport locations could develop the necessary infrastructure to support on-site hydrogen production, particularly if a renewable energy supply is within close proximity.

British Airways has teamed up with ZeroAvia, a leading innovator in decarbonising commercial aviation, in a project to explore how hydrogen-powered aircraft can play a leading role in the future of sustainable flying.
The collaboration, which reflects the importance of sustainability at British Airways, will see ZeroAvia embedded in the heart of the airline. The team will work remotely alongside mentors and experts to explore the transformational possibilities of moving from fossil fuels to zero-emission hydrogen to power the airline’s future fleet.

In September 2020, ZeroAvia received global acclaim when it achieved a major technological breakthrough by completing the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell powered flight of a commercial-size aircraft, which took off from Cranfield Airport. The Piper M-class six-seat plane completed taxi, take-off, a full pattern circuit, and landing.

The HyFlyer II project will see ZeroAvia develop a certifiable hydrogen-electric powertrain that can power airframes carrying up to 19 passengers in collaboration with the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, and Warwick-based Aeristech. The HyFlyer II project will “conclude with another world’s first hydrogen-electric flight by ZeroAvia in a 19-seat aircraft”, with a 350 mile flight expected in early 2023.

In 2021, ZeroAvia expects to further demonstrate the credibility of its technology at longer ranges and using larger aircraft. The company expects to achieve the commercialisation of hydrogen-electric power for aircraft as early as 2023 with flights of up to 500-miles in up to 20-seater aircraft. By 2027, it plans to have powerplants in service capable of powering commercial flights of over 500-miles in aircraft with up to 100 seats and by 2030 more than 1,000-miles in aircraft with 100+ seats.
Both British Airways and ZeroAvia are part of the Jet Zero Council, a partnership between government and industry to drive forward the UK Government’s net zero-emission ambitions for the aviation and aerospace sector.

Sea Transport

By 2027, the Danish shipping firm, DFDS, hopes a new ship, the Europa Seaways, will run 480 km between Copenhagen and Oslo, that route powered by compressed hydrogen and emitting only clean water in its wake.

The marine industry is one of the dirty secrets of climate change; marine transport emits 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually and is responsible for 2.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the dirty oil and diesel that’s burned for propulsion.

“If international shipping was a country, it would be the fifth or sixth highest in the world [for greenhouse gases], between Germany and Japan,” says Simon Bullock, a researcher at the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
In response, the EU is calling for zero-carbon ships by 2030. Alongside that, the government of Denmark passed a law committing the country to slash carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2030, requiring different industries to come up with ideas to make that happen.

A survey by Lloyd’s Register suggests that mandatory regulation and financial incentives are the top two reasons why shipping companies accelerate their decarbonisation, with industry body the International Maritime Organization pushing to slash shipping emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050.


A number of other companies have already committed to converting their fleets to alternative fuels.  Royal Mail is trialing a dual fuel van to determine if hydrogen is operationally suitable for its fleet. A specially converted Ford Transit will be used in Aberdeen over the next year as part of the City’s drive for better air quality and more sustainable transport options.
The vehicle is slightly larger than a typical Royal Mail van, potentially making it suitable to support the company’s growth in parcel deliveries.
It is the first time in 10 years that Royal Mail has introduced a hydrogen-powered vehicle into it’s fleet, and will be used to deliver letters, cards and parcels.

Brewer Heineken has committed that the development and rollout of hydrogen-powered trucks is part their broader strategy to further green their logistics, and has signed up to a European-wide pledge to adopt the technology. The company was one of 62 signatories that pledged to invest in the development, production and deployment of FCH (Fuel Cells and Hydrogen) trucks and related infrastructure during EU Hydrogen Week. ‘Transport accounts for 11% of our overall carbon footprint and, as a key pillar of our Brewing a Better World strategy, we are committed to investing in innovative and sustainable solutions for our logistics,’ Heineken said in a statement.
It said that it supports Europe’s sustainable transport ambitions, and is working for a cleaner, greener freight transport system, ‘with hydrogen trucks as an important part of that future’.

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