Recent developments in hydrogen as a transport fuel

4 Min Read

Throughout the transport and freight industries there is a clear and growing commitment to the drastic reduction of carbon emissions. Many of the largest companies in these sectors have devoted considerable resources to this urgent task, and among such companies a clear agreement is emerging: it is hydrogen, more than any other fuel technology, which represents the best solution to the problem of decarbonisation.

The aviation industry is leading the charge. Aerospace multinational Airbus – the world’s largest airline manufacturer – is only the latest company to make a clear move in the direction of hydrogen, having declared their readiness to build and operate a commercial airliner powered completely by hydrogen by the year 2035. At a recent sustainability event in Toulouse, Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury made his own position clear: “Hydrogen has an energy density three times that of kerosene — [technically it] is made for aviation”. Though, as Faury went on to say, the wholesale adoption of hydrogen would require a degree of governmental and regulatory support, such support is already beginning to materialise: the French and German governments have allocated significant funds to the decarbonisation of the aviation industry, in which hydrogen plays a major role.

In the maritime sector, too, the case for hydrogen is growing in strength. The need in this sector is particularly acute: the International Maritime Organization has called for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 compared with 2008, while emissions from ships – which make up 25% of total emissions from the global transportation sector – are set to be included in the EU Emissions Trading System from 2026. Responding to this need, shipping giants such as Maersk and CMA CGM have declared their firm commitment to decarbonisation. Hydrogen represents the clearest and most workable solution to this challenge: the use of low-carbon electricity to produce low-carbon hydrogen by water electrolysis – whether by green (renewable) hydrogen or by purple (nuclear) – can be readily deployed to produce electricity in fuel cells, while green hydrogen can also be used to produce ammonia, which is capable of fuelling the engines of large and small vessels alike. Indeed, ammonia – which has twice the density of normal hydrogen fuel (and therefore requires half the storage space), is easy to liquefy and is already transported around the world in its liquid form on a routine basis – has been identified as mature enough for deployment in the next few years.

A hydrogen engine

On the roads, finally, hydrogen is proving to be a dynamic and constantly developing technology. Among the most recent developments in this ever-evolving field is the hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engine, which Dr. Motohiko Nishimura, executive officer of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, has declared to be unambiguously “superior to fuel cells”. The benefits of this technology are indeed plain to see, with greater durability and reliability allowing ICEs to be used not only in cars but also in long-distance buses, trucks and heavy machinery. Indeed, Toyota are set to adopt hydrogen-fuelled ICEs in one of their most popular vehicles: the Toyota Prius. This new ICE-equipped Prius will be cheaper to build, more fuel-efficient and, vitally, will produce zero carbon emissions.

At all levels of the transport and freight industries, whether on the roads, on the oceans or in the skies, the message is clear: hydrogen is the fuel of the future.

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