Comment: Exploring hydrogen opportunities across the automotive industry

3 min read

With energy vectors set to diversify and hydrogen poised to play a key role in mobility, HORIBA MIRA’s Sean Crespin, global hydrogen and fuel cell strategy lead, discusses some of the companies exploring the breadths of this technology’s applications.

The interest and activity around hydrogen has accelerated in the past 24 months, expedited by the release of many national hydrogen strategies globally. To date, 20 countries – collectively representing 70 per cent of global GDP – have announced hydrogen strategies. The UK released its in August 2021 and predicts that hydrogen will provide between 20-35 per cent of the country’s total energy consumption by 2050. It confirms a strategic focus on transport transformation – spanning heavy goods vehicles, buses, trains and aviation – alongside heating for homes and businesses.

Viritech’s Apricale is one of the world’s first hydrogen hypercars

It’s clear that hydrogen will play an important role in the decarbonisation of mobility and industry, and will be a substantial part of the energy mix by 2050. While further work is required on developing the appropriate refuelling infrastructure, with regulations tightening, growing global decarbonisation pressures and increasing fuel prices, hydrogen technologies are becoming all the more attractive.

Forward-thinking automotive companies are already poised and developing mobility applications that exploit the advantages of hydrogen, which enables short refuelling times and delivers more onboard energy to take vehicles even further. A cluster of these are emerging in the West Midlands at MIRA Technology Park (MTP). More than 40 key players in the zero-carbon mobility revolution are utilising this Warwickshire base, with a growing number focused on hydrogen solutions or fuel cell technology and exploring applications beyond HGVs.

Innervated Vehicle Engineering is one such company and is operating within the light goods vehicle (LGV) sector. Currently, there are 2.5 million diesel vans on UK roads but few options for fleets to move to emissions-free vehicles that can cost-effectively manage the gruelling daily demands of a 1.5 tonne payload and the 600km transient itineraries of the delivery sector – a requirement that exceeds the capabilities of today’s battery electric solutions.

Innervated Vehicle Engineering's IndiGo zero emissions LGV

However, the Innovate UK-backed company has developed IndiGo, a zero emissions LGV that features a modular hydrogen fuel cell propulsion drivetrain. The solution is OEM-agnostic, offering flexibility to choose fuel cell hardware supplier or sub-assemblies without compatibility issues. Its low operating costs and 15-year expected lifecycle (128 per cent longer than the average diesel van) enhance appeal, as do sustainability initiatives such as using low energy micro-manufacturing techniques and hemp in the construction of body panels.

While the likes of Toyota and Hyundai fly the flag for passenger FCEVs with the Mirai and NEXO, at the other end of the scale companies such as Viritech are illustrating the potential of hydrogen in the hypercar market.

Alongside the workhorse use cases of hydrogen-powered deliveries, the technology can also provide performance benefits in the hypercar segment. Acting as a technical showcase, Viritech’s revolutionary Apricale is one of the world’s first hydrogen hypercars. With engineering roots in motorsport and Formula One, the Apricale delivers the same performance as the fastest BEV hypercars with outstanding mid-range and from-zero performance, but is around half the vehicle mass of a BEV and comparable with the lightest ICE hypercars.

It features a patent-pending graphene hydrogen pressure vessel that is used as a structural component of the monocoque chassis, contributing to its 1:1 power-to-weight ratio. This is complemented by proprietary patent-pending energy management and vehicle control system technology ‘Tri-Volt’ that is central to the hydrogen powertrain solution.

While Viritech’s solutions will be applicable to the HGV, aerospace, marine and power generation industries, it is demonstrating that hydrogen has the potential to be a wider-reaching solution for applications across the automotive and transport industries.

It’s an exciting and inspiring time for the industry, and for the Hydrogen Technology Hub at MTP, which is on its way to becoming a thriving location for next-generation mobility businesses. Known for its comprehensive R&D services, MTP is supporting these companies accelerate the large-scale adoption of zero emissions green hydrogen – firstly for the mobility sector, but while also integrating with the wider connected UK hydrogen ecosystem.

MIRA Technology Park's (MTP) Hydrogen Technology Hub

Interest and rapid growth have initiated the installation of a green refuelling forecourt with the support of Octopus Hydrogen and Octopus Renewables. On-site hydrogen generation will be sufficient to support 60 cars’ worth of green hydrogen per day. In addition, EV charging points will bolster the 70 already on site, powered by a purpose-built 7MW ground-mounted solar array.

The new facility will support the fast-growing cluster of businesses utilising it for design, development and validation of these revolutionary solutions that are pushing the diversity, scope and breadth of hydrogen applications within the mobility sector and setting the agenda for what’s to come.