Chris Hampton 01 June 2021

It’s time for councils to step on the gas

It’s time for councils to step on the gas image

Hydrogen is set to play a major role in our efforts to reach net zero by 2050. As well as listing hydrogen as a key pillar in its ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution, the Government points to its potential in its recent strategy announcement: 'Bus Back Better'. It is also providing funding through the £120m Zero Emission Buses Regional Area (ZEBRA) scheme.

Councils and local authorities are key to helping the UK reach net zero by investing in hydrogen infrastructure to decarbonise transport hubs – from bus fleets to service vehicles and refuse trucks. Forward-looking councils are already converting fleets to hydrogen – but if you’re not sure where to start, here’s a quick guide to hydrogen infrastructure.

Vehicle types

More and more hydrogen vehicle types are becoming available, from buses and cars to refuse trucks, road sweepers, gritters and vans. Hydrogen is especially suited to large and heavy electric vehicles, as it avoids the need for bigger batteries, offers a similar range to diesel and has a fast and familiar refuelling process.

Size and funding options

You can start your journey to zero emission local authority fleets with single hydrogen refuelling station large enough for about 10 buses and a small fleet of council vehicles. Or you can join forces with users to build a shared refuelling facility, and dramatically bring down the price of hydrogen. If you want to start small and build as demand increases, that’s no problem either. You can take a modular approach to the design and build of your refuelling station.

You may be able to take advantage of the Government’s Zero Emission Buses Regional Area (ZEBRA) scheme, which will make £120m available to councils for the purchase of zero emissions buses and the reduction of carbon emissions from local public transport.

Siting a hydrogen storage and re-fuelling facility

As well as the dispensing pumps, a refuelling station will need space to store the hydrogen and an electrolyser to produce it. However, the space needed is typically no bigger than a traditional petrol forecourt. Layouts can be designed to fit almost any space and sites can be safely located within a residential area, like the Kittybrewster refuelling station in Aberdeen, if necessary.

Sourcing renewable energy for green hydrogen production

To produce green hydrogen, you need renewable energy. We work with customers to source this directly from local wind or solar farms or buy from a supplier. Under the latest government proposals, an electrolyser would no longer need a direct connection to a renewable generator for its hydrogen to count as green.

Safety

Hydrogen refuelling stations are safe. You must of course ensure you comply with appropriate safety distances, but this can be calculated and built into the engineering design. Hydrogen storage vessels are purpose built and designed to maintain pressures at optimal, safe levels and pumps are designed to ensures a safe connection between the dispenser and vehicle – with effective system safety checks every time hydrogen is dispensed.

Timescales

Typical total build time is around 15-18 months. This includes planning permission, civil engineering works, construction and commissioning. The current lead time for hydrogen electrolysers is about 12 months and for compression tanks it’s about nine months.

Proven technology

When Aberdeen City Council wanted to develop a cleaner public transport network, it worked with BOC, to develop, install and operate a tailored, state-of-the-art hydrogen refuelling station. The facility, based at the Kittybrewster bus depot, produces green hydrogen from electrolysis on site, and supplies the current fleet of ten 42-seat buses that travel up to 350km each day. Kittybrewster is now accessible to all hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, including double decker buses and private vehicles, and has attracted over £20m of investment into Aberdeen.

Action

The first step in decarbonising your transport fleets is to find the right partner. A good hydrogen fuel specialist can manage the whole project, and even operate and maintain it for you.

You might also find BOC’s guide for councils and local authorities, Decarbonising Transport with Hydrogen Hubs a useful resource.

Chris Hampton is product & business development manager – Hydrogen at BOC UK & Ireland

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