London begins hydrogen scheme with taxi trial

Hydrogen taxis carrying VIPs to the Olympics will be able to fill up at Heathrow from next week as London prepares to host the UK’s first industry-standard hydrogen network.

Friday will see the launch of a refuelling station to cater for a fleet of five hydrogen fuel-cell black cabs developed in the UK, which from Monday will begin a two-year trial by transporting dignitaries across the capital for the Olympic Games.

The company behind the refuelling station, Air Products, this week won funding from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to upgrade the Heathrow site and an additional planned site in central London to meet car industry standards for hydrogen refuelling.

The network and the taxis are part of plans to make London a centre for the budding hydrogen vehicle industry and follow the introduction of hydrogen-powered buses that run from an Air Products-operated station in Stratford in east London.

‘That’s the idea behind it: that London becomes much more attractive to deploy vehicles,’ said Diana Raine, Air Products’ European hydrogen business manager and co-ordinator of the European HyTEC project that is rolling out the taxis.

‘We’re in competition with other European countries for the limited number of vehicles that are available in these early years — certainly up until 2015 when the car companies have said they’ll be into the early stages of mass production.’

The TSB funding will enable Air Products to upgrade its stations to the J2601 standard agreed by most car manufacturers, which means increasing the pressure at which the hydrogen is stored from 350 bar to 700 bar.

This will allow vehicles using the stations to hold more fuel and therefore increase their range. But it also requires the installation of additional cooling technology to compensate for the heat created by the increased pressure.

Zero-emission strategy

The HyTEC programme is a key part of London’s strategy to encourage the development and take-up of zero-emission vehicles, both for the economic reason of fostering new industries and to help improve the city’s air quality.

A further 10 taxis and five police-operated Suzuki Bergmann hydrogen scooters are set to be deployed as part of the trial, with the aim of preparing the way for the eventual complete conversion of London’s taxi fleet to hydrogen by 2020.

Next week will also see the launch of a separate trial of wireless electric vehicle charging technology involving the deployment of Qualcomm Halo wireless charging pads in homes and businesses around the Tech City area of east London.

The hydrogen taxi scheme, however, has the added bonus of using fuel-cell technology developed in Britain by Loughborough-based company Intelligent Energy.

‘What better opportunity to be able to showcase UK-derived, developed and implemented technology than in something like the Olympics in London?’ said Dennis Hayter, Intelligent Energy’s vice-president of business development.

He said that the UK would be in a good position to become a competitive location to manufacture the technology as it reached commercial readiness during the second half of the decade.

This would coincide with the development of hydrogen production methods that produced almost zero carbon emissions, such as wind-powered electrolysis and waste gas conversion, he added.

‘You’ve got to acknowledge that hydrogen in a conventional sense is still a fossil-fuel-based fuel but when utilised in a fuel-cell vehicle it still gives very significant CO2 advantages.

‘It’s zero emission at tailpipe and, wheel to wheel, it’s still 35–40 per cent better [for] CO2 than it would be if you were to measure it against the conventional diesel taxi.’