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Science & Technology

Published on July 28th, 2014 | by Jon Regnart
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When Boris Said Bollocks: A Discussion of Hydrogen Vehicles

My Response

Boris Johnson’s recent colourful response Conversationregarding London’s pollution demonstrated one clear fact: the air quality in London is a growing concern that worries the Mayor of London. A recent air quality survey by King’s College London highlighted the scale of the issue; concluding that Oxford Street contains the highest mean concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the world.

Firstly, I’d like to clarify why I contacted Boris and why I thought it would help. I didn’t expect a hundred page White Paper in the post from Boris’ press office solving the pollution problem; I just wanted an opinion from a Conservative politician with power. If you do some research on Boris Johnson, he doesn’t come across as a staunch climate change denier so it seemed reasonable to ask him.

C2Furthermore as Mayor of the most important city in the world, Boris Johnson is strategically placed to address London’s persistent failure to hit EU air quality deadlines. Whilst he has pioneered the world’s first Ultra Low Emissions Zone, adding an additional £20 million for the most polluted London Boroughs, more could be done to ensure London continues to reduce harmful emissions. Investing in the hydrogen economy could provide a solution to London’s (and the worlds) pollution dilemma.

The Hydrogen Economy

In the UK and EU, there is a lack of detailed and focused policy in the area of hydrogen vehicles. As a result, this prompted me to try a more direct approach and I contacted the Mayor directly via Twitter. Social media is changing the way people interact. It offers a new way for businesses, individuals and politicians to engage in discourse and deliberate important issues. Boris Johnson attracts much media attention and rightly so as he is good entertainment. Unfortunately however, the word “bollocks” was discussed more than hydrogen vehicles. Hence I thought I’d outline the case here.

The benefits of hydrogen vehicles are plentiful; they only emit water vapour and perform similarly to diesel powered cars in terms of power and performance. Refuelling stations also operate in the same manner so consumer behaviour remains relatively unchanged. In addition, unlike battery powered vehicles that take up to 30 minutes to charge, hydrogen vehicles take approximately 2-3 minutes to refuel.

Hydrogen vehicles are a “game changer” and are proved to reduce emissions. Recent experiments conducted by Leicester City Council into hydrogen buses have shown significant reductions in NOx emissions around densely travelled bus routes. EU funded programs such as High VLO City and CHIC (Clean Hydrogen in European Cities) have provided the UK with fleets in Aberdeen (the largest in Europe) and London.

Current Obstacles

And herein lies the problem. The hydrogen economy is a nascent market and is therefore reliant on government subsidies. What’s desperately needed in the UK is investment in an infrastructure. Only 12 refuelling stations are operational across the UK which is far off the 65 needed to accommodate the early market.

Another problem – and this is true of most renewable technologies – is the high up-front cost of purchasing a hydrogen vehicle. The UK government have set aside a reserve of money amounting to £5000 per vehicle to ensure 50,000 Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) are on the road. This is a commendable step but it is reported that the new hydrogen fuel cell Hyundai ix35 is being priced at approximately $50,000 in California. Therefore to commercialise hydrogen vehicles the UK government must incentivise consumers more. Perhaps through a “Green Vehicle Deal” that operates similarly to the “Help to Buy” scheme or maybe exchanging your old car as an up-front payment like the government does for battery powered vehicles.

However for the hydrogen economy to really grow, governments must incentivise businesses to invest in the technology. Businesses possess the financial capability, research facilities and resources to help bring the cost of hydrogen fuel cells down. In fact, large businesses such as Walmart, BMW and Coca Cola are already implementing hydrogen fuelled forklifts – without subsidy – in their warehouses. In Walmart’s Balzac warehouse for example, fuel cell forklifts are estimated to save the company $2 million over 7 years with a C02 reduction of approximately 530 tonnes per year.

The potential for hydrogen fuel cells is huge as they can be used for stationary power units, remote devices such as laptops and nearly all forms of transport. However, in the short term, investing is this market is risky and companies are likely to make some initial losses. Yet if companies looked ahead to the long term, hydrogen vehicles are a credible investment that will help the UK achieve an 80% reduction in C02 by 2050.

Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

Jon graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in International Relations and currently works in a college in Birmingham. He is mainly interested in European issues, critical security studies and UK politics. He supports Birmingham City, idolises Alessandro Nesta and takes a long time to play snooker shots.



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