Saturday 18 January 2020

Why hydrogen may be the future for trucking

Matthew Warden, area director at the motor division of Towergate Insurance, offers his perspective on the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source

In May 2019, Parliament declared climate change a state of emergency, with an urgent need to act now. Unsurprisingly, road transport is a high priority in the quest to reduce CO2 emissions in the next decade.

One area of suggestion is the use of hydrogen power. While the word hydrogen has negative connotations, there are a lot of misconceptions and knowledge gaps about how it can be used safely and efficiently to transform our transport infrastructure.

This year, a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers suggested that an investment in hydrogen trains was a vital part of the process to improve air quality, and this is already being rolled out across trucks and freight too.

How can hydrogen revolutionise truck transportation?

Both businesses and governments are working hard and investing research into hydrogen as a clean energy powerhouse. The main reason for this is that although hydrogen is not a naturally occurring source of energy (such as solar or wind), its only emission when utilised is water vapour. This makes it one of the cleanest and safest sources of power and it has a considerable impact on air quality.

What does this mean for trucks specifically?

Fuel-cell vehicles, more commonly known as FCVs, are electric vehicles; however, they do not use grid power to recharge. An FCV generates its own electricity onboard the vehicle by combining oxygen with a tank of stored hydrogen fuel.

The ultimate goal of FCVs is to reduce CO2 emissions and decarbonise the transportation system entirely by 2050. Currently, FCVs are the only zero-emission vehicle which allows drivers to travel around 400 miles on a tank of hydrogen fuel and then refuel in just three to five minutes.

The barrier facing governments and businesses is how to scale hydrogen production long-term, without damaging the environment, and making the whole process counterintuitive.

Using electrolysis is the preferred and only rational option as this means the industry has the potential to use renewable electricity sources to produce hydrogen, without further damaging the environment with the gasification of coal.

Who is adopting hydrogen power so far?

Forbes reports that ambitious startup Nikola will bring thousands of hydrogen-powered big rigs and a coast-to-coast hydrogen station network to fuel them. It is urging carmakers like Honda and Toyota to use these stations to expand the usage of fuel cell vehicles.

Toyota and Paccar have joined forces to unveil 10 prototype trucks that rely on hydrogen fuel cells. The new trucks will pair two stacks producing about 228 kilowatts, or 306 horsepower.

UPS will be using three of Toyota’s new prototype trucks for its services for its vow of a ‘zero emissions delivery’.

How could FCVs affect the insurance costs of a truck?

With the decarbonisation of our transportation system set for exponential growth, Towergate Insurance are monitoring developments closely. New technology raises new challenges – and opportunities – for the insurance industry. Battery-powered electric vehicles and the widespread deployment of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems are no exceptions.

It may still be early days for hydrogen, but as the necessary infrastructure develops alongside the trucks themselves, the speed with which FCV trucks appear on our roads may take many by surprise. Towergate Insurance is readying itself for the transition.

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