Fuelling the future…

4th December 2017

Northern Gas Networks is excited about the future of our fleets, both operational and corporate, and is embracing the opportunity to integrate alternative vehicles.

We’re working closely with other organisations in the Yorkshire region to collaborate and devise a strategy to reduce the environmental impacts of our vehicles.
This includes the City CNG project, but we’re also looking at other exciting green fuel to drive us into the future.

Earlier this year, NGN purchased a Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell car.

The idea of a hydrogen powered car isn’t new… in fact, they’ve been in development since the 80’s. But today they still maintain an element of the sci-fi; technology that somehow the majority of us are not up to speed with.

Swindon is the UK’s first urban centre to boast three hydrogen refilling stations, which makes it the perfect location to trial the integration of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with company fleets.

The technology is relatively simple. Fuel cells take hydrogen and oxygen and produce electrical energy which can be stored and used to power the motor of the vehicle. It works a little like an electric car but the electricity comes from a fuel cell, rather than from plugging it in.

The only byproducts are heat and water; it’s the cleanest and greenest innovation in transport to date as at the point of use, there is no carbon or harmful particulates emitted from the exhaust.

As with many other low emission vehicles (like electric and hybrid) hydrogen cars use regenerative braking to charge their batteries, which is a renewable way to generate power for the engine.

Many manufacturers are now investing in this technology and Toyota and Hyundai are leading the way in the UK market.

Driving the Toyota Mirai (Japanese for ‘Future’) is smooth and almost entirely silent.

Like any other new car, it has all the latest features, and some extras so that the driver can keep an eye on the consumption of fuel and track when the regenerative breaking kicks in to recharge the battery.

On a full tank of hydrogen, the car has a range of 300 miles… which is comparable to the distance many normal cars achieve from a tank of fuel, making this car more competitive than many existing low emission vehicles which generally have lower ranges and require timely recharging.

The refuelling process takes about three minutes and is remarkably similar to topping up with petrol or diesel, meaning that once there are hydrogen refilling stations across the country (there are currently 12, but most of them are in the south) it’ll be as easy as filling up is now.

The fuel cells have a lifespan of about 15 years, which again, isn’t dissimilar from a ‘normal’ car and it’s thought that they might result in lower maintenance costs due to the lack of combustion engine.

Consumers and businesses using low emission vehicles (hybrids, electric vehicles etc) experience benefits such as reductions in tax and escape from congestion charges… and hydrogen vehicles are expected to follow suit.

If Leeds and a few other towns/cities in our network become subject to air quality zones and therefore congestion charges in the coming years, operating a fleet of alternative vehicles could result in huge paybacks.

The cars and their technology are impressive, and inspire a feeling of understanding around the future of transport in this country.

But what’s the catch?

The biggest challenge comes with sourcing the hydrogen. The ‘greenest’ way to source hydrogen is to produce electricity through renewable sources such as wind or solar, and then use that electricity to split water in to hydrogen and oxygen (in a process called electrolysis) which emits no harmful gases.

However, it could also come from the natural gas that we transport through our pipes. Splitting natural gas, which is mainly methane, into its components and then capturing the carbon leaves behind hydrogen.

This hydrogen could then be used in heating and possibly to fuel vehicles.

Production of hydrogen in this way is explored in NGN’s pioneering H21 project.

For more information about the H21 project and how this will aid the decarbonisation of gas in the UK visit www.northerngasnetworks.co.uk

Please get in touch with sustainability@northerngas.co.uk to explore the future of green transport.