Hydrogen has the potential to revolutionise the decarbonisation of road transport
The most effective policies are those which offer as many options as possible, enabling innovation to find the best way forward.
In road transport, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are rightly seen as a key pillar of decarbonisation. Hydrogen propulsion also offers great potential, especially in heavier and longer distance vehicle segments, due its longer range and fast refuelling. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are expected to play a major role in the medium to long term. Hydrogen internal combustion engines (hydrogen engines) present an alternative path towards zero emissions that has many benefits in the shorter term.
Burning hydrogen in an engine produces zero CO2
Hydrogen engines offer faster and lower cost decarbonisation of road transport. Internal combustion engine (ICE) technology is mature and, adapted for hydrogen engines, can be made ready for volume market introduction in the near future. This is especially true for medium and long-haul lorries, delivery and work vans and off-road vehicles, as well as many passenger cars.
The longer range and shorter refuelling times of hydrogen engine vehicles (and FCEVs) are attractive for those transport companies, van drivers and other users and consumers for which BEVs do not offer suitable utility.
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, at least 22,000 jobs in the United Kingdom are dependent on engineering and manufacturing of ICEs. This UK ecosystem is an in-built historical advantage that can be maintained for the future despite the planned phase-out of petrol and diesel cars, vans, buses and lorries over the next 18 years. Transitioning to hydrogen engine technology will support those jobs and support our ongoing technological excellence, alongside the growth in electrification technologies.
A network of hydrogen refuelling stations is essential to support the future hydrogen vehicles. The earlier introduction potential of hydrogen engines will stimulate the demand for hydrogen stations, which will stimulate FCEVs in the longer term.
So, what needs to happen for hydrogen engines to realise their great potential for the environment, the economy, transport users and consumers? Hydrogen engines can be facilitated by minor pragmatic adjustments to the planned zero emission vehicle mandate for cars and vans and the post-2035 fleet zero emission regulations for all vehicle types. Its inclusion as a compliant option for those regulations will provide confidence for manufacturers to invest in the technology and consumers and users to adopt hydrogen engine vehicles.
Burning hydrogen in an engine produces zero CO2. Since the engine draws air from the atmosphere, the natural CO2 in the air is reemitted in the exhaust. The engine and its exhaust system produce trace amounts of CO2, at levels close to the accuracy limit of measurement equipment.
Hydrogen engines emit NOx, which is well controlled in modern vehicles due to the current Euro 6 emission standard (and the future Euro 7). At Euro 6 levels, studies have shown that exhaust emissions already have only a minimal effect on urban air quality and can be considered as close to zero impact. Hydrogen engines are expected to emit well below Euro 6 and Euro 7 levels.
Drafting the ZEV mandate and post 2035 rules in a way that opens the path for hydrogen engines is a necessary step that would enable all the above benefits, making a valuable contribution to achieving net zero with clear advantages for the UK economy and jobs.
Rehman Chishti, Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham
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