The hydrogen revolution

Source: PSE April/May 2018

PSE’s Josh Mines takes a look at an innovative scheme in Sheffield that will see some of the first hydrogen-fuelled vans begin work in the authority’s road maintenance fleet.

Air quality in the UK is a serious problem. A joint study between Lancet Countdown and the Royal College of Physicians last year found that 44 cities in the UK were in breach of World Health Organization guidelines on clean air.

It makes sense, then, that councils should take the lead on trying to clear the air in their local areas by adopting more environmentally-friendly options in their own fleets.

One innovative option is already being explored in Sheffield, where the council is working with Amey to trial two vans that use hydrogen power in its road maintenance fleet.

The benefit of cleaner air

Sheffield City Council already uses two electric vans in its ‘Streets Ahead’ programme that is upgrading roads, pavements, street lighting and bridges across the area. On top of this, the authority plans to replace its diesel fleet with another 15 electric vehicles in a drive to reduce carbon emissions over the next couple of years.

But the centrepiece of the council’s new eco-friendly fleet is the pair of hydrogen vans – which are the first to be used in Amey UK network. The scheme to use them is being backed by a government grant, and the success of the trial will inform Whitehall in the use of other hydrogen vehicle schemes in the future.

The hydrogen-power fuel cells on the vans adds the range of the electric battery to around 200 miles, making them great options for road maintenance tasks.

“We will run a trial with two hydrogen vehicles over the next two years,” said Streets Ahead environment manager, Tom Cullingford. “At the moment, there are only 20 to 30 hydrogen vehicles in the country and technology is at a very early stage.

“But the obvious benefit is that there are zero carbon emissions which will help improve the air quality in and around Sheffield.”

Getting on the right track

The public sector is not the first to begin looking into this type of technology. At the start of the year, rail minister Jo Johnson called on the rail industry to start looking into hydrogen-powered trains, setting a target of taking gas-guzzling diesel engines off the network by 2040.

Suppliers such as Alstom are already working hard to get hydrogen-powered trains on track in other countries, such as Germany, where hydrogen-powered rolling stock is now running on a local network in Lower Saxony.

The hydrogen vans in question are two Renault Kangoo ZE electric vans, which have been upgraded with the hydrogen fuel cell, built by French firm SymbioFcell and supplied to Amey via Symbio’s UK partner Arcola Energy.

The hydrogen for the vehicles will be provided by ITM Power from the company’s facility in Sheffield, which is one of the only hydrogen refuelling facilities in England.

The council hopes that the vans will reduce carbon emissions and the cost of running the vehicles, as well as improve mileage. All these factors will be taken into account in the government’s review of the trial.

More importantly, it is believed that hydrogen-powered vehicles could also reduce levels of dangerous nitrous oxide particulates, and contribute to Sheffield’s commitment to an Air Quality Management Zone.

“Amey is taking huge steps to ensure it is operating in the greenest and most efficient way as staff travel and work around the city as part of the Streets Ahead programme,” commented Sheffield City Council’s cabinet member for environment and street scene, Bryan Lodge.

“It’s great to see that it is mirroring the council’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the city and clean up the air that we all breathe.”

Though this is only a small step in a longer journey, it will be intriguing to see how many more councils will follow Sheffield’s lead in helping to create a greener, healthier country.




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