Japanese manufacturer hopes to kick start the uptake of hydrogen-powered cars in the UK with the opening of its own filling station
31 October 2014

A solar-powered hydrogen production and filling station facility capable of producing 20 tonnes of hydrogen a year has been opened at Honda’s Swindon factory. 

The hydrogen it produces can be dispensed directly into fuel cell vehicles such as Honda’s own FCX Clarity

Fuel cell cars are still under development and so far have only been manufactured in small volumes, but Honda fuel cell expert Thomas Brachman says that if made in numbers of 100,000 a year or more, the cost of a Honda hydrogen fuel cell car could already compete on price with a conventional combustion engine-powered car of today.

The hydrogen station is the first to produce commercial quantities of renewable hydrogen at the point of use. It has been developed by a consortium of companies including the British Oxygen Corporation, with funding from the government’s Innovate UK. 

The plant will also supply a small fleet of bi-fuel Ford Transit vans belonging to Swindon Borough Council and two fuel cell-powered fork lift trucks working in the production facility.

Hydrogen is produced at the new plant in a sustainable way though pressurised alkaline electrolysis of water using electricity produced by a solar farm nearby. 

Electrolysis is a process which breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen with no carbon emissions, as long as the electricity used is from renewable sources. A fuel cell converts hydrogen and oxygen into ‘clean’ electricity with only water and heat as by-products. 

Hydrogen is produced by the Honda production plant at 900bar and can be supplied to vehicles with either 350bar or 750bar storage tanks. The firm first established a hydrogen filling facility at Swindon in 2011. 

Until now, the hydrogen it dispensed was shipped to the site, but the addition of the sustainable production facility has significant implications for the potential of hydrogen as a transport fuel. 

One of the challenges manufacturers face in making fuel cell cars a production reality is the distribution of hydrogen to the point of sale. There are arguments in favour of centralised hydrogen production on the grounds of cost, but stand-alone systems don’t rely on a complex hydrogen delivery network and the associated carbon footprint that goes with it.

According to the UK Petroleum Industry Association, the cost of building a conventional high volume filling station capable of dispensing five million litres per year is in the region of £2 million - compared to the cost of the Honda filling station and production plant of just over £1 million. 

Passenger cars make up around 60 per cent of the fuel used in road transport, accounting for around three million litres of the conventional filling station’s capacity. Assuming an average car can achieve 35mpg, that’s enough fuel for around 23.1 million miles of motoring.

The Honda FCX Clarity has a range of 285 miles on 3.9kg of hydrogen, the useable amount in a tank holding 4.2kg. On that basis, the Honda station could provide enough fuel per year to support over 1.4 million miles of fuel cell-powered motoring at an estimated pump price for hydrogen of between £5 and £6 per kilogram. 

On-going running costs would be much lower than a conventional forecourt, with no fuel to buy and no delivery costs. The question of energy security is also removed from the equation altogether. 

The UK government is backing hydrogen as part of a portfolio of low-emission technologies, says Kate Warren from the government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles: “Road transport will need to de-carbonise by some 80 per cent by 2050, so we need to understand what the options are.” 

An £11 million project called ‘UKH2Mobility’ was launched in October with £7.5 million coming from the government and £3.5 million from industry. “The project is trying to understand what it will take for the roll-out of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and refuelling infrastructure and who needs to do what to make it happen,” said Warren.

The funding is destined for both new and existing stations with the aim of establishing 15 publicly accessible hydrogen stations in the UK by the end of 2015. In the longer term, UKH2Mobility is planning to have a network of 65 stations through the UK.

Warren says £400m of government is in play to support low emission technology, with an extra £500 million to come between 2015 and 2020. A further £500 million has been pledged towards the Advanced Propulsion Centre (a shared initiative between the government and industry) and that is matched by £500 million-worth of industry funding. 

In October, Hyundai delivered six ix35 fuel cell cars to fleets in the UK including Transport for London. Toyota has also announced the UK will become one of the first markets for its FCV next year. Honda’s production FCEV, claimed to be the first fuel cell car with the entire fuel cell powertrain packaged in the engine bay, comes to the Europe in 2016.

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Our Verdict

Honda Insight
Honda’s history in environmental cars dates back to 1972 and the Civic CVCC, a petrol car designed to meet US clean air regs

The Honda Insight is more affordable, but no better than other hybrids such as the Toyota Prius

31 October 2014

OK, so the local solar farm produces the electricity. If this is solar, then presumably the bulk of the hydrogen is produced in summer. But it would be interesting to know how efficient the process is - ie how much energy in kilowatts of compressed hydrogen is liberated per kilowatt of electricity supplied. This is crucial, because if the efficiency is poor, then it might be better to use the electricity for other purposes such as recharging the batteries of electric cars. Aside from the matter of range, electric cars are extremely efficient in terms of miles travelled per kWh of energy supplied.
Also I'm not sure what the cost figure quoted relates to. Is this the cost of production of the hydrogen, or the likely selling price - and if the latter, does it include any taxes applied? One of the joys of electric car use (at the moment) is that the "fuel" is only taxed at 5%, or nothing if you generate your own!

31 October 2014

That could be the answer for many of our problems including electricity generation. Solar power is the cleanest long-term solution whether it is used for home use, battery electric cars or hydrogen-fuelled cars.

31 October 2014

What is there not to like about a vehicle that only emits Co2 and can obtains its power from solar produced electricity. Hydrogen has to be the future and far more attractive than battery powered.
If manufacturers can produce the vehicles at similar cost to a normal combustion equivalent. Industry provide an effective refuelling infrastructure and the Government keep the tax incentives for low emission vehicles, Hydrogen has to be the way forward.
Credit to Honda and Hyundai who seem to be pioneering the development of Hydrogen vehicles for use here in the UK.

31 October 2014

Hands up, who would rather fill the Car with power from a Plug,or, fill the Car as normal from a Pump dispensing Hydrogen?,ok, the start up for Hydrogen Stations will at first be costly,but,eventually that will come down,no need for a dedicated power point to charge up your Electric Car at Home,nit everyone has a Drive for there Car to sit on,no, i think Hydrogen has it's merits,and,what with Petrol cars going 60mpg+,the Electric Car isn't the only choice.

Peter Cavellini.

31 October 2014

I want one of these, now just bring the ruddy price down so we can afford them.

Optima2

1 November 2014

Excellent scheme & something Honda should be proud of, give us more & dump all the wind farm projects (except those off shore) which are sucking in all the subsidies with very poor generation results..
Oh and Harry it emits zero CO2 just good old H2O which is what you meant I think

Curly

2 November 2014

Not in quasi laboratory conditions when handled by chemists or engineers but by the pudding headed general public. We have all seen them trying to fill up with motor spirit whilst smoking. Will they be any more sensible using a fuel which arguably is more dangerous still? Probably not.

3 November 2014

Thanks Curly55, your right, I did mean H2o and not Co2!

7 November 2014

The government will prefer hydrogen over electric as they will be able to continue to tax fuel. Clearly, if its a clean fuel they will need to think up some other rational but I doubt that will prove much of a hurdle. Can anyone else predict the arrival in future of heavy plug in electric-hydrogen hybrids designed just to avoid tax, like the current petrol/diesel hybrids are now.

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