Richard Bradley, Head of Strategy at Midlands Connect, outlines how the Midlands is ready to take the lead on the UK’s clean energy revolution when it comes to hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.
Energy prices are sky high right now and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw pump prices had reached an eye-watering £1.76 a litre. Fortunately, I’ve already moved to a plug-in electric vehicle and with EV prices improving all the time, it’s clear that change is truly on the horizon.
We know that the age of petrol and diesel powered transport is coming to an end and coupled with the current energy crisis, switching our fuel sources feels very timely. Government has committed to fully carbon neutral transport by 2050 and green technology is already moving fast in the car industry, with public transport operators also finding new ways of making their vehicles zero emission. But what are the viable alternative fuels for long-distance HGVs? With heavy goods vehicles accounting for around 21% of the Midlands’ road-based emissions overall, solutions are needed.
Electric vehicles dominate the green vehicle market today but we urgently need to diversify our power sources for moving freight, in order to maintain a strong and resilient transport network into the future. Midlands Connect is planning infrastructure which ensures hydrogen power can find its home in our region and help provide a route-map to clean energy alternatives across the country.
One option is hydrogen fuelled vehicles generating their own electricity through a chemical reaction inside the vehicle’s internal fuel cell. At Midlands Connect, we think hydrogen presents a promising offer for several reasons; it feels similar to petrol refuelling, can be easily stored at key locations, has minimal safety issues and fast refuelling without drawing electricity straight from the grid.
You may recall the popular book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, which many of the Midlands Connect team love to read to their children at bedtime, where we’re reminded that:
‘We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!’
Just like in this famous book, you can’t go over us, under us or through us, so it’s hardly surprising that the Midlands has become the UK’s premier location for warehousing, freight and logistics and is therefore a fantastic candidate for trialling hydrogen HGVs and refuelling.
40% of the Midlands’ economic activity comes from the manufacturing and distribution industries and we are home to around a third of the UK’s warehouse space. Combining this with a long history in the automotive industry, the region has also become a hotbed for academic research in transport.
Now of course we’re a little bit biased, but we’re not the only people who recognise why the Midlands is an ideal location for developing alternative fuels. The Department for Transport agrees and Baroness Vere has asked us to become the lead sub-national transport body for alternative fuels.
We link the north and south, connecting key routes and UK gateways at air, sea and free ports and our planned improvements will increase their resilience. Our development of a network of hydrogen refuelling, recharging and modal interchange hubs at central locations between the region’s two airports will connect key centres for the production of sand and gravel, food and many other heavy goods vital to the UK’s economy.
The Midlands is already leading on hydrogen technology in the UK, with great research centres such as MIRA and Tyseley Energy Park, as well as JCB, who are developing hydrogen internal combustion engines and have recently signed a large deal to build hydrogen construction vehicles right here in the Midlands.
Hydrogen fuel technology for heavy goods vehicles is still relatively new and Government is now seeking suitable locations to test hydrogen trucks through their zero-emission road freight trial funding competition, as outlined in 2021’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
The Midlands was a successful bidder with the ‘H2GVMids’ entry, developed in collaboration with Midlands Engine and led by EDF and the Energy Research Accelerator. The H2GVMids partnership includes businesses from the green hydrogen and hydrogen truck supply chain, as well as numerous hauliers, all highly motivated to kickstart this new technology. If successful, H2GVMids could receive some £30 million funding to run truck trials over the next 5 years and build on the Midlands’ proud history in the automotive, freight and logistics industries.
Today, the world of hydrogen technology is filled with questions, variables and possibilities, from how hydrogen is produced and where it comes from, to switching trucks, buses and trains to this fuel. In the Midlands, we stand united and ready to take the lead on the UK’s clean energy revolution. We can’t wait to harness the power of hydrogen.
To read more about Midlands Connect’s strategy for alternative fuels, visit our website to read our recent report: https://www.midlandsconnect.uk/publications/alternative-fuels-beyond-fossils/
Richard Bradley is Head of Strategy at Midlands Connect.