“We are in the hydrogen century,” Armin Fuerderer, director of hydrogen solutions at Rolls-Royce Power Systems, told The Times recently.
Over the coming decades, hydrogen has the potential to decarbonise industries from transport to steel, fertilisers to oil refining, shipping to energy storage. To fulfil its potential, a huge amount of infrastructure needs to be built for production, storage and use of the clean fuel.
The International Energy Agency predicts about 3,500 GW of hydrogen production capacity will be needed by 2050, while investment bank Jefferies thinks it could be twice that. The world’s largest factory for producing electrolysers, the machines that turn water and electricity into clean hydrogen, has a capacity of just 1 GW.
That factory is in Sheffield and is owned by ITM Power, one of the British companies that is at the leading edge of the hydrogen revolution. Such is the demand for its products, ITM is planning a new factory in Sheffield on the former site of City airport.
ITM does not have the playing field all to itself though. Another British company, Doncaster-based CPH2 this year listed on Aim, London’s junior stock market, to fund the development of a “membrane-free” electrolyser, which it claims will produce hydrogen in a wider range of operational conditions as well as lasting longer and being simpler to maintain than current systems.
Rolls-Royce, which is working with Airbus on hydrogen-powered aircraft, is also considering making its own electrolysers with the aim of building a complete supply chain for its hydrogen turbine engines.
Another UK hydrogen pioneer is Ceres Power, which is also listed on Aim. Ceres develops technology for hydrogen fuel cells, which can either turn hydrogen into energy or vice versa, and licences it to companies to manufacture products from. Its largest shareholder is Bosch, the German industrial products conglomerate, which said earlier this year it will build a factory in China to manufacture hydrogen fuel cells based on Ceres technology.
Further along the hydrogen value chain is Ryze Hydrogen, the Oxford-based company specialising in the storage and supply of hydrogen to end users such as the transport sector. Wrightbus, based in Northern Ireland, is a customer of Ryze Hydrogen. Its zero-carbon-emission buses, including hydrogen-powered single- and double-deckers, have driven more than 1.1 million miles, saving about 2,000 tonnes of CO2 in the process, and recently won significant orders in Australia and Germany.
Some of the UK’s biggest companies, household names such as JCB and BP, are investing heavily in clean hydrogen. JCB, one of the world’s biggest producers of plant machinery, is investing £100 million to create super-efficient hydrogen combustion engines to power its loaders, excavators and diggers.
biggest companies including JCB, are investing heavily in clean hydrogen.
BP said last week it is taking a 40.5% stake in the Asian Renewable Energy Hub in Australia, one of the largest renewables and clean hydrogen projects in the world, and will become the operator of the 6,500 sq. km site. The same day, Reuters reported that the energy major is increasing the size of its hydrogen team, adding 100 people after hiring a similar number in 2021.
The lead that British companies are taking in the emerging hydrogen economy will require sustained investment if it is to be maintained. There are extraordinary levels of demand for hydrogen technologies; a significant amount of money will be needed to ensure British companies can capitalise on those opportunities.
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