Global oil giant Shell has closed all of its hydrogen refueling stations in the UK. Shell had opened three hydrogen refueling stations between 2017 and 2019 in Gatwick, Chobham and Beaconsfield in UK that were operated by Motive which is a subsidiary of UK-based electrolyzer manufacturer ITM Power. According to the operator, the sites were “not performing satisfactorily” and have not been profitable as there are only a few hydrogen cars in the country. Furthermore, the operator has also termed the sites as “too small to accommodate larger vehicles such as lorries” and hence, will be decommissioned along with a fourth hydrogen refueling station that Motive ran in Swindon. The demand for the stations in UK did not materialize to a great extent because hydrogen fuel-cell passenger cars failed to grab the attention of the public. This is due to the fact that there is a continued rise of battery-electric cars along with improvements in public EV charging infrastructure and a lack of choice when it comes to fuel-cell cars and their relative expense compared to either petrol- and diesel-powered cars and battery-electric vehicles. Shell’s announcement reduces the number of stations to only 11 currently operational in the UK. That is in great contrast to more than 57,000 public electric vehicle charging outlets at around 20,000 locations throughout the UK, plus the millions of electrical outlets at homes and workplaces.
However, Shell has interestingly announced that moving on, it is going to be focusing on hydrogen usage in heavy-duty vehicles as greater opportunity for hydrogen lies in the heavy-duty segment.
This decision corroborates with what the hydrogen team at PTR predicted in its analysis of the hydrogen mobility market i.e. hydrogen FCEVs are likely to dominate the heavy-duty vehicle market whereas BEVs are currently a more competitive option for passenger and light-freight vehicles. This can be explained by drawing a comparative analysis between both vehicle types using certain parameters as follows:
1. Driving Range
Most BEVs have an average driving range of 100 to 200 miles while some high-end BEVs can go up to 387 miles. However, hydrogen FCEVs are already averaging about a 300-mile range which shows that hydrogen car technology, although in initial stages, is performing very close to the best battery cars. So, the performance of both these technologies is close when it comes to driving range.
The average charging time of BEVs is around 6 to 8 hours whereas if super-fast chargers are used, the refueling time can be cut down to around half an hour. Contrary to this, hydrogen cars can be refueled in about 5 minutes, but the differentiating factor is the location and number of refueling stations. For example, in California there are 5,000 super-fast charging stations for BEVs whereas only 45 stations are available for hydrogen which are located far from each other.
The specific energy of hydrogen is 35,000 Wh/kg whereas it is 200 to 300 Wh/kg for lithium-ion batteries, but the overall efficiency of hydrogen is 25 to 35% only whereas for BEVs it is 70 to 90%.
When it comes to infrastructure, both BEVs and FCEVs lack proper infrastructure as compared to conventional vehicles, however, the infrastructure for hydrogen powered vehicles lags greatly as they are a comparatively new technology.
5. Weight and Range of Vehicle:
When it comes to carrying more weight and going farther, hydrogen FCEVs take the lead as when the range of vehicle increases, the weight of BEVs also increases. Contrary to this, the weight of FCEVs remains constant as the range increases. This is due to the fact that hydrogen has a high gravimetric energy storage density which means that more range can be added to the vehicle without increasing its weight. This is not true in the case of BEVs where after a certain point, there is no considerable increase in range of vehicles. So, in order to carry more weight and travel faster and farther, as in the case of heavy-duty transport, FCEVs are the most optimal solution. Due to this fact, many major truck manufacturers like Daimler, Volvo, Freightliner, Mac, Hyzon, Hyundai and Nikola are developing FCEVs.
This news may seem like a minor setback for hydrogen, however, on the positive side, the European Parliament has voted in favor of the European Commission’s proposed Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation, or AFIR, which is part of the “Fit for 55” climate package and sets binding targets for the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure that also includes hydrogen. Following is an overview of what AFIR means for hydrogen:
• One hydrogen refueling station after every 100km, on both TEN-T core and comprehensive network by 31/12/2027
• At least one 700 bar dispenser at each HRS, and one liquid hydrogen dispenser after every 400km.
• At least one HRS per urban node (meaning at least 424 more HRS across Europe)
• Where direct electrification is technically not possible or not economically viable, alternative fuels infrastructure such as hydrogen should be put in place.
• Appropriate number of hydrogen and ammonia refueling points at TEN-T core maritime ports by 2025
• Work on the rollout of infrastructure for hydrogen-powered planes at airports
This regulation will be a major driving factor of the hydrogen mobility market going forward.
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