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Fleet decarbonisation - Filling the gap to net zero with hydrogen

Fleet decarbonisation - Filling the gap to net zero with hydrogen

Author: Jamie Colquhoun, Transport energy advisor

In my previous blog, I talked about the challenges that fleet managers face when considering the transition to electric vehicles. However, for many organisations with fleets that include heavy duty vehicles, there’s further head scratching to be done.

While the clear favourite clean mobility choice for cars, smaller vans and heavier duty vehicles undertaking shorter routes is battery electric, there are many operational instances where battery electric technology may fall short.

And it’s this gap especially where a fuel grade hydrogen production and distribution network across the UK could support a new wave of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle alternatives, able to refuel in minutes. Hauliers with heavy payloads on long and regular routes to and from freight terminals; critical response vehicles which need to be ready at scale 24/7; bus routes where vehicles are out 18 hours a day and clocking 300 miles; off-highway vehicles working long shifts in rural areas where grid capacity is reduced.

These are just some of the scenarios where hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle solutions could prove to be a winning solution.

But could isn’t the same as will. To date, the hydrogen transport industry hasn’t progressed at the same pace as its battery electric counterpart, however it is catching up. In summer 2021, UK Government published its long awaited Hydrogen Strategy, which announced “continued investment in research and innovation by government and industry” to develop and scale up hydrogen in transport over the 2020s.

And as we speak, we already have hydrogen road transport pilots happening in certain sectors within the UK - with tens of hydrogen-powered Fuel Cell Electric (FCE) buses and a handful of FCE refuse collection vehicles already operating on our roads, alongside several police forces trialling FCEVs within their forces. Meanwhile on mainland Europe, FCE truck trials in Switzerland are almost a year in, with almost 50 x 36 tonne vehicles now offering emission-free logistics solutions.

So, the vehicles are coming and, in the meantime, the technology is available right now to help reduce emissions through dual fuel conversion on commercial vehicles which allows hydrogen to be mixed with diesel directly in a conventional engine. Key to any successful transition, however, will be the availability of fuel grade hydrogen production and supply. Investors need security of demand, backed up with long term supply agreements with end user organisations, to justify business cases to build multi-million-pound infrastructure. This is why collaboration across the entirety of this potential new industrial supply chain is so vitally important.

The great news is that we’re already seeing this transition in action and Costain is excited to be heavily involved in one such programme. The Hy-Value project in conjunction with Welsh Water seeks to develop a hydrogen production facility in South East Wales, using waste gases from the sewage process as a source of fuel grade hydrogen, to produce up to 2000kg of hydrogen a day or enough to fuel 100 buses. Aligned to this, Costain has recently undertaken a hydrogen demand assessment for road transport in South East Wales, considering potential usage of this locally produced hydrogen across the region by local authorities, bus operators, emergency services, ports and hauliers. The results have been very encouraging with demand scenarios suggesting that potential hydrogen fuel cell vehicle user demand in South East Wales could meet all daily production from the proposed facility within two years of operations commencing in the mid-2020s.

This is just one of many innovative projects and partnerships in play across the UK that are looking to integrate vehicle manufacturers, hydrogen producers, distributors and public/ private sector end users to deliver an economically and technically viable end-to-end hydrogen transport industry which helps us to reach net zero.


In line with our Climate Change Action Plan, we are busy supporting organisations in developing strategic options for their own fleets and have been delivering infrastructure for decades. Whether you’re at the start of your journey and need to consider total cost of ownership for different vehicle types or whether you require support in developing the right charging infrastructure across your estate, our clean mobility experts can help.