But fleets were told not to expect Government intervention to help the switch to the clean fuel by funding a hydrogen infrastructure until the safety and viability of the fuel had been proven.
The forecast comes from Dr Peter Pearson, director of the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College, London, which is close to completing a three-year study on the feasibility of running hydrogen buses in London.
Pearson was speaking after addressing ‘Overcoming Barriers to the New Hydrogen Economy’, a seminar at City Hall, London, attended by transport officials and executives of companies trying to make hydrogen power a reality. ‘Governments are unlikely to get directly involved in financing major infrastructure,’ said Pearson.
‘And the finance sector will be reluctant to lend money until hydrogen has a proven track record. It is likely to fall to industry – mainly the energy companies – to finance it, most likely off balance sheet or through raising share capital.’
Pearson said the centre will present its findings to London Mayor Ken Livingstone this year and they will then be made public.
Pearson added: ‘The technology exists but the Mayor and his colleagues will have to consider the cost, as hydrogen vehicles are expensive at the moment.
‘Assuming it happens, a fleet of buses with combustion engines running on hydrogen will be an important further step towards vehicles with this power source becoming widely accepted.’
The event was hosted by the London Hydrogen Partnership and sponsored by Air Products.
It was held at City Hall, the headquarters of Ken Livingstone who backs the London Hydrogen Partnership, which brings together those running the capital and a range of companies.
Livingstone has said he strongly supports the development of the hydrogen-based technologies in London, as ‘the health and quality of life of Londoners depends on good air quality’.
Pearson told delegates climate change, energy diversity and security were among drivers for hydrogen vehicles.
He added: ‘So is local air quality – water is the end product of the process, and that’s a lot better than what comes out of most tailpipes these days’.
Surveys suggested people needed more information about hydrogen to make an informed decision though negative associations such as the H-bomb or the Hindenburg (the hydrogen-filled airship which burst into flames in 1937, killing 36 people) were rare.
‘Hydrogen vehicles tend to be more favoured than the infrastructure, but less than half the Londoners questioned in a survey had heard of them’ Pearson said. ‘Less than a third had heard of fuel cell vehicles.
‘Asked how they felt about hydrogen-powered vehicles being introduced in London, 36% supported the idea, but they tended to be those with prior knowledge.’
Pearson said providing hydrogen was not the issue – there was industrial hydrogen, centralised production from natural gas, on-site reforming of natural gas, hydrogen from local resources (such as waste) and on-site electrolysis. Public acceptance was more important, including the question of cost.
He said: ‘Hydrogen production for vehicles is likely to start on a small scale, initially mainly from fossil fuels, with a probable move to larger-scale carbon-neutral production and pipelines.’
Using hydrogen to power buses and fleet vehicles operating in one area was the ideal starting point, with depot refuelling limiting the need for infrastructure, because that would rely on a fast increase in vehicles if applied more widely.
Pearson said: ‘Governments are unlikely to get directly involved in financing major infrastructure. And the finance sector will be reluctant to lend money until hydrogen has a proven track record.
'It is likely to fall to industry – mainly the energy companies – to finance it, most likely off balance sheet or through raising new share capital.’
• Nicky Gavron, London’s deputy mayor, in welcoming delegates, said: ‘We are utterly committed to reducing carbon dioxide in London, will work with the London Hydrogen Partnership and lobby central Government’.
Oil will maintain place as critical fuel
OIL production is probably close to its peak, and significant resources remain, said Rodney Allam, director of technology development, at Air Products Europe, the event sponsor.
Speaking after the seminar, Allam said oil under the North Sea and in other areas could be used after carbon dioxide was pumped into the fields, and left for a year or two. This meant oil could keep vehicles running until other fuels came into wide use, with hydrogen the most important.
Air Products claims to produce more than half the annual global total of about 45 billion kilograms of hydrogen used in industries, including chemicals.
Allam told delegates hydrogen was already being stored, piped and had been transported in tankers.
He said: ‘You may have followed a tanker carrying 50,000 litres of it along the M1 without realising it. It’s not that different to moving petrol.’
Hydrogen, though a safe fuel, had to be sealed and pressurised during handling and refuelling, in the same way as LPG (liquified petroleum gas).
He said CNG (compressed natural gas) needed to be considered as an interim fuel.
There was no need to develop a complete hydrogen fuelling structure overnight, as investment could be gradual in step with growth in demand.
‘At this stage, we can use the existing industrial infrastructure where possible and develop low-cost fuelling to meet the needs of early stakeholders’, he said.
Creating a hydrogen fuelling infrastructure for the future was a high priority for the EU, said Agustin Escardino Malva, an executive member of the advisory panel to the European Parliament’s technology platform on hydrogen and fuel cells.
The technology was set up in January to accelerate the introduction of hydrogen and fuel cell-based energy systems in Europe.
‘It is being treated with the same importance as was EU enlargement and the introduction of the euro, and a European refuelling infrastructure from Valencia to Stockholm by 2050 has become a clear political objective,’ he said.
Malva is president and chief executive officer of NTDA Energia which leads a private/public partnership on hydrogen and fuel cells in the Valencia region.
* Intelligent Energy will this year reveal a new prototype using hydrogen power, said business development vice president Dennis Hayter after speaking to delegates.
It would be slightly larger than a smart car, built of lightweight materials, and highly aerodynamic.
‘We are working with our partners to make hydrogen cars the transportation of the future,’ he said. ‘They have to be developed so they can work in temperatures down to minus 40C, like other cars’.
Hayter said a fleet of hydrogen vehicles would be prepared for testing in Coventry, and his company hoped the London Hydrogen Partnership would evaluate vehicles in the capital.