Britain has begun trials of a heavy-duty truck powered by a lighter-than-air gas that emits nothing but water.
Sky News has exclusive coverage of the first UK-designed and built hydrogen-fueled heavy goods vehicle (HGV) to be driven on the Horiba Mira test track in Warwickshire.
Scottish manufacturer HVS said the truck could help decarbonize the road freight industry, which generates more than 21 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year in the UK alone.
“It feels exactly like a diesel engine,” said Jawad Khursheed, a dentist-turned-entrepreneur who started the company.
“HGV drivers typically drive for four hours and then rest.
“After 15-20 minutes, they can replenish the hydrogen, so they can drive another 600 kilometers.”
The truck stores high-pressure hydrogen in shock-resistant tanks. The fuel cell converts the gas into electricity, which then drives the wheels.
Batteries that provide similar range weigh several tons, reducing the amount of cargo that can be carried. Charging currently takes several hours, which is considerable downtime for fleet operators.
Prototype test driver Macky Arthur told Sky News: “You don’t have the roar of a diesel car, you don’t have the exhaust of a diesel car.
“It’s a great place to live and work.”
But hydrogen remains problematic as an energy source. Currently, generating electricity from green electricity is expensive and far less energy efficient than plugging batteries into charging points.
The Center for Sustainable Road Freight calculates that switching all diesel trucks to batteries would require 10.6 gigawatts of electricity, roughly the equivalent of 900 large offshore wind turbines.
But switching to hydrogen would require 35.6GW of electricity to do so – requiring more than three times the number of turbines.
Advocates of hydrogen insist that the technology will improve so that hydrogen can be produced cheaply and on a large scale.
Finding ways to decarbonize heavy goods vehicles is critical to achieving net zero emissions.
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HGVs make up 1.5% of all vehicles on UK roads but generate nearly 20% of all transport emissions.
But because of their weight and the intensity of driving time, they are difficult to decarbonize.
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The government has banned the sale of diesel trucks weighing up to 26 tonnes from 2035 and heavier vehicles from 2040.
That timetable is almost as tight as the sales deadline for petrol and diesel cars.
But there is no consensus on whether trucks should be powered by batteries or hydrogen. And there aren’t any charging or petrol stations on the road network.
The transport industry is reluctant to make major investment decisions on fleet decarbonization for fear of choosing the wrong technology.
Michelle Gardner, of UK logistics, told Sky News: “If you’re a fleet manager, you need to plan ahead which vehicles you’re going to use.
“We need the government to do vehicle trials faster.
“We need to have a plan on how to put in place the infrastructure to reassure operators that their future vehicles will be supported.”
The government will soon announce road trials of zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles. It is also possible to test overhead cables on motorways, a system that is already being studied in Germany.
A spokesman said the government’s approach to decarbonisation was technology-neutral but that “hydrogen technology could play a role in helping to decarbonize certain sectors of transport, such as heavy goods vehicles”.