Pillars of Progress: Mobility – Hydrogen driving shifts into gear

Pillars of Progress: Mobility – Hydrogen driving shifts into gear

Not long ago, the idea that hydrogen-powered vehicles would someday cruise along European roads was mainly ‘hot air’. However, the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) has co-funded a project which helped two UK SMEs develop and demonstrate their concept hydrogen-powered vehicles to bring them closer to commercialisation.

One of these SMEs is British hydrogen car manufacturer Riversimple. Founded by former motorsport engineer and racing driver Hugo Spowers, Riversimple recently revealed plans to raise £150m over the next three years to fund the manufacture of two hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Based in Wales, the company wants to start commercial production of its eco couple, the Rasa, in 2023 and a lightweight commercial van the following year. The £150m will fund two production plants that would each produce 5,000 vehicles per annum.

Hugo Spowers, founder of Riversimple, said, “Hydrogen’s potential to contribute to a clean energy future is widely recognised around the world, by governments and the private sector. With the ban on combustion engine vehicles looming, now is the time to focus on clean and efficient alternatives.”

“We’re focused on delivering convenient and commercially viable hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), as well as seeing a new era of automotive manufacturing in the heart of Wales. FCEVs are the only zero carbon solution that offers customers the convenience that they have come to expect – three minutes to refuel and a decent range.”

In the real world

Hydrogen-powered vehicles produce only water vapour as waste and will complement battery electric vehicles with lower CO2 emissions across Europe. But real world demonstrations and upfront investment were required to test this emerging technology in practical driving conditions.

A project co-financed by the FCH JU – Demonstration of Small 4-Wheeled fuel cell passenger vehicles Applications in Regional and Municipal transport (SWARM) – showed that hydrogen-powered vehicles are both practical and powerful.

Launched in 2012 and completed in 2017, SWARM helped UK SMEs to develop and deploy a fleet of small hydrogen-powered vehicles.

One of these SMEs has developed a new business model to offer their clients in rural Wales clean transport services using their vehicle. The other one is looking for investors or partners to take their vehicle to the next stage of development or manufacturing.

Powering through

The project brought together research centres, new SMEs and other larger industrial stakeholders which allowed, through intense collaboration, the development, manufacturing and testing of three concept car models, two of which have already been their second-generation products and have been deployed in a small fleet of 11 vehicles.

The vehicles have been tested in various European regions, from Wales to north western Germany. A fleet of one of the vehicles will soon be manufactured and used in an innovative clean transport services business model in rural Wales. The other one is seeking investors or partners to move to the next stage of development or manufacturing.

With the capacity to be built in two configurations, four-seater for taxi purposes or two-seater with cargo capacity for small logistics purposes, we might soon see it on our roads.

The road to success

The FCH JU worked with universities and SMEs to lay the foundations for the development and manufacturing of small hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The goal? To enable these stakeholders to make the key technical innovations necessary for such vehicles to be available for new zero emission transport services for European customers.

Key results? The FCH JU-funded project included a demonstration phase that uncovered many of the requisite innovations that helped to improve later generations of vehicles. The project also financed the necessary hydrogen refuelling stations to test the vehicles and the business model.

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