England & Wales, Scotland Climate action and sustainable development, Transport and infrastructure

How hydrogen can help councils improve air quality


Image by Dele Oke from Pixabay

Buta Atwal, Chief Executive of Wrightbus talks about the potential of hydrogen in helping the UK decarbonise public transport and public sector vehicles.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the world, yet its potential as a clean, green, zero emission fuel is only beginning to be realised.

Hydrogen buses, cars, trains, bin lorries, police cars and ambulances exist and are in use today. These vehicles emit only water as they move, and Hyundai claims their NEXO hydrogen car “cleans the air as it drives”. According to an experiment they ran in collaboration with University College London, in 350 miles the car cleaned 918.75kg of air on London roads, “the same amount of air that one adult breathes in 60 days or 1,455 adults breathe in one hour”.

Whilst the focus is of course on dealing with the immediate impact of Covid-19, councils and public service providers are increasingly looking to hydrogen to play a major role in their plans to improve air quality and tackle their local climate emergency as part of a green economic recovery.

Wrightbus, a bus manufacturer based in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, has produced the world’s first hydrogen electric double decker bus. The first fleets of these will enter London and Aberdeen later this year, powered by hydrogen produced in the north west of England. Overall, we are aiming to deliver 3,000 hydrogen buses, which would be about 10 per cent of the country’s total fleet, into towns and cities across the country by 2024. These buses will be powered by green hydrogen produced five Ryse production plants connected to offshore wind farms.

Elsewhere, according to a report published by the North West Hydrogen Alliance last week:

  • Northern Rail are identifying routes that are suitable for running hydrogen trains along.
  • Cheshire East Council is looking to create a fleet of hydrogen-fuelled refuse vehicles.
  • The Port of Liverpool is taking steps to convert to hydrogen fuel, alongside other alternatives, in the development of its Port Air Quality Strategy.

Looking further ahead, huge, world-leading trials are taking place to build the technology required to convert the domestic gas grid, which serves 23 million homes, to hydrogen.

There are only two options for decarbonising transport, battery electric and hydrogen. Councils will need to take a thorough assessment to decide the best mixture of these technologies for their local area, but the general rule is that battery electric is better for shorter bus routes and lighter vehicles, and that hydrogen is better for longer bus routes and heavier vehicles.

Due to the air quality and climate emergency issues facing councils across the country, it is inevitable that the next few years will see a significant increase in hydrogen technology deployed by councils.

And what is exciting is that by choosing hydrogen technology, councils will be making a decision to invest in UK jobs and supporting growth in a green economic recovery. Businesses and organisations across the country will play a key role across the whole hydrogen sector – from research, to training, manufacturing, implementation and use. There is an opportunity to create and sustain hundreds of thousands of hydrogen jobs, and place the UK as world leaders in this exciting form of low carbon technology.


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