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NanoSUN Interview Special: What’s The Demand for Hydrogen as A Fuel Source?

Jishnu Battacharya - NanoSUN Field Applications Engineer
Jishnu Battacharya - NanoSUN Field Applications Engineer

As the UK’s Hydrogen Sector and the Transportation Industry continues to focus their efforts on providing hydrogen as a low-emission fuel alternative to reduce the use of fossil fuels and decarbonise the nation’s energy industry, we interview Jishnu Battacharya, NanoSUN’s Field Applications Engineer.

Responsible for identifying, developing and managing a pipeline of opportunities to deploy NanoSUN’s hydrogen refuelling products, from initial discovery through to their introduction to the market, Jishnu’s remit at NanoSUN is wide-ranging. Having accumulated extensive product knowledge through the management of their lifecycle and acting as the voice of the customer to NanoSUN’s Product Development Team, Jishnu speaks to us about the market’s demand for hydrogen as a transport fuel source and explains the value of NanoSUN’s mobile Pioneer Hydrogen Refuelling Station in delivering a significant step to facilitate an effective hydrogen infrastructure in the world’s ambition to reach Net Zero by 2030.

 

This week we saw the launch of the UK Government’s Hydrogen Strategy, which suggests that 20-35% of the UK’s energy consumption by 2050 could be hydrogen-based, but where do you think we are seeing the main demand for hydrogen in the market?

It’s great to see the UK Government’s recent commitment and support for a hydrogen economy. This clearly highlights that there is a growing demand for hydrogen within various sectors across the nation and that these need to be met if we’re to be successful in reducing carbon emissions.

The transportation industry is showing a positive approach to hydrogen. We’re seeing a large demand for the use of hydrogen as a direct replacement to petrol & diesel for road transport. In particular, the hard to decarbonise sectors such as commercial heavy goods vehicles like buses, trucks, refuse collection vehicles and material handling vehicles with the likes of forklift trucks. There’s also some exciting activity in the marine, rail and aviation sectors with ongoing development of hydrogen fuel-based solutions. One of these projects being our very own Pioneer Hydrogen Refuelling Solution, which NanoSUN recently announced will be assisting EMEC in the dispensing of hydrogen fuel to the aircraft in the HyFlyer II Project.

 
So, it’s clear we’re beginning to see increasing support of the hydrogen economy and in making hydrogen a viable fuel source, but uptake within the transport sector still appears to be slow due to lack of efficient hydrogen infrastructure. What do you think are the main barriers to delivering this?

Hydrogen has the lowest density of all elements and for the gas to be successful as a fuel source within the transportation sector, high pressure hydrogen is required to store the equivalent energy to conventional diesel & petrol tanks. This is usually of pressures ≥350 barg.

We therefore have to take into consideration the various factors required to create and utilise a high-pressure hydrogen supply chain, such as production, compression, storage, transportation, dispensing and ultimately the end use applications like road vehicles. Implementing each of these components safely can be expensive and time consuming. It’s likely because of this, that the current accessibility of refuelling stations with high-pressure hydrogen in the UK is low at present, limiting the number of hydrogen end users.

We have to remember, however, that the market remains young at this point and the challenge in the majority of regions is how to ramp up the scale of the infrastructure cost effectively and quickly.

 

Yes, it’s been reported that there are only around 11 hydrogen refuelling stations located across the UK, which you note are costly and slow to deploy. Can you tell us then, what NanoSUN is doing to assist in accelerating the adoption of hydrogen and how the mobile Pioneer Hydrogen Refuelling Station (HRS) can help to overcome these barriers?

The Pioneer HRS is a cost effective, rapidly deployable system that can be safely operated to refuel a range of hydrogen vehicles. The system incorporates high pressure hydrogen storage and dispensing in the form of a cascade, that is integrated into a 20ft High Cube ISO container making it easily transportable.

The core offering is focused on delivering refuelling for the road transportation sector. Pioneer’s mobile ability is ideal for increasing the accessibility of hydrogen for small to medium fleets of vehicles and demo projects. It also works as a network extender for sparse hydrogen vehicle populations without having to invest in a long term, expensive hydrogen production facilities where the return on investment will be low with current demand.

To allow hydrogen to compete with petrol/diesel in terms of £/kg and establish itself as a commercially viable fuel, we believe that hydrogen production and compression to high pressures should occur at large scale. The idea is that the Pioneer is filled from a large-scale high-pressure production plant and then taken to where end-use refuelling is required. When empty, it’s simply taken back to the plant for filling. There is, therefore, no hydrogen production or compression onboard.

The Pioneer helps to overcome the barriers of high costs and inconvenient timescales by providing an answer until a large vehicle fleet is established and a fixed hydrogen station is needed. If required, the Pioneer can continue be used as the bulk delivery mechanism. The station can also be used as a back-up solution to fixed HRS whenever downtime is experienced in the form of back-up storage and dispensing.

 

You mentioned earlier that the hard to decarbonise sectors are showing a great demand for hydrogen fuel. How does the Pioneer serve these sectors and other applications across the transport and mobility industries?

The Pioneer HRS has been specifically designed to fully refuel 350 barg vehicles from forklift trucks, buses, heavy-duty trucks and to partially refuel 700 barg passenger cars. Its fundamental purpose is to service these sectors and support them in progressing introductory hydrogen fleets.

Pioneer Hydrogen Refuelling Station
NanoSUN's Pioneer Hydrogen Refuelling Station

The primary way in which it does this, is in its mobile containerised form and rapid deployment ability. With no production or compression, the Pioneer can be transported and simply deployed to a hydrogen refuelling site. Bringing the hydrogen to the vehicle fleets where fixed hydrogen refuelling stations are sparse allows for the fleet to be quickly deployed without incurring a large CapEx on building a new refuelling station.

It’s also key to note that the Pioneer’s cascade system removes the need for compression at the point of use whilst still allowing for full vehicle fills and high utilisation of the hydrogen onboard. The Pioneer provides further benefits, in that it can also be used as a smart tube trailer, providing large scale hydrogen buffer storage for fixed refuelling stations, or for low pressure hydrogen applications as long as the suitable pressure reduction equipment is available to connect to the Pioneer.

 

We know that hydrogen is currently expensive to produce, and that cost is a high concern when it comes to developing a hydrogen network. Can you tell us how the Pioneer helps to best serve these customers economically, compared to fixed refuelling stations?

A fixed hydrogen refuelling station costs in the region of £1 to £2 million pounds depending on the amount of hydrogen produced and the pressure availability, and it can take 1-2 years to complete the build and commission. It then becomes about local demand. Unless the use of hydrogen vehicles is high in the area where the station is built, its highly likely the utilisation of that station will be low.

In this scenario, to leverage the level of investment used on building the station, it typically falls on the end user (the owner of the hydrogen vehicle) paying high prices for the hydrogen fuel (£/kg of hydrogen), nowhere near comparable to the prices paid for petrol & diesel. But, if the owners of the stations do not charge these prices, they would yield a low return of investment for several years on the plant, proving to be economically unfeasible for these parties until the number of users of hydrogen vehicles increases.

The Pioneer Hydrogen Refuelling Station assists with both sides of the supply chain, as it has a low capital cost in comparison and can be deployed much quicker to manage the current vehicle fleets on the road. This allows hydrogen producers to sell their hydrogen without incurring huge capital investments and without charging end users high prices.

 

Whilst it’s clear that the Pioneer offers a value chain that’s economically viable for introductory fleets and vehicle demonstrations, what happens once the vehicle fleet reaches such scale that a fixed filling station is needed?

This is an important point, as NanoSUN has developed the Pioneer to act as a steppingstone towards fixed hydrogen infrastructure. It increases accessibility in the early days of the market tackling the ramping up challenge of developing hydrogen infrastructure. We believe fixed hydrogen infrastructure is certainly required as populations move towards hydrogen as a major energy vector.

Once vehicles fleets ramp up past sensible utilisation of Pioneers, there are several options:

1. You can increase the number of Pioneers in the field to manage larger fleet sizes, as long as the hydrogen production can match the demand.

2. Build a fixed hydrogen refuelling station and utilise the Pioneer as a back up to the station whenever it experiences downtime or as a bulk gas storage system for the station.

3. Move the Pioneer to another region that doesn’t have a developed hydrogen infrastructure, but there are a fleet of vehicles that require a refuelling solution.

With the third option, you can repeat this again once the fleet grows and keep moving the Pioneer to early hydrogen regions, building up utilisation & infrastructure each time.

 

As we continue to see new innovative technology like the Pioneer HRS be introduced to facilitate hydrogen mobility and the hydrogen economy, what are your predictions for the growth of hydrogen energy and the Pioneer within the transport and mobility sectors?

When it comes to passenger cars, battery electric cars maybe the dominant technology. This is understandable with how domestic cars are typically used, spending 95% of their life parked (ample time to charge) and used for relatively short journeys. But it is inevitable that hydrogen will share a portion of this market as new technology becomes available and costs decrease. The continued uptake of battery electric cars is also dependent on advances in the electric grid, regarding number of charging points and generation/management of peak electricity demand.

The marine, aviation & rail sectors however, are already turning to hydrogen and requirement will continue to grow as more pressure is placed on these industries to decarbonise fully, particularly with the benefits of hydrogen gas currently being stronger than other fuels for powering large, heavy systems.

In the next 5 years, I believe the most significant growth in hydrogen will come from the commercial heavy goods vehicle and material handling markets. Early adopter trials of buses, trucks, vans and forklift trucks are happening all across Europe and our partners are connected to each of them. From a purely practical perspective, hydrogen buses are the most mature segment with multiple OEMs offering commercial models already.

As the hydrogen industry continues to demonstrate the benefits of hydrogen fuel as the answer to decarbonisation, with the support of key industry players creating advanced technological outcomes and generating positive outlooks, we can be confident that hydrogen will become a major fuel vector to ensure we hit the net zero targets within these hard to decarbonise sectors by 2050.

For more information on NanoSUN's Pioneer HRS, check out the Pioneer Solution or contact us at info@nanosun.co.uk.

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