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Hydrogen sector gets boosts from government grants and BBC Winterwatch

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The UK hydrogen market has had seen several boosts this week, including from Ricardo PLC (LON:RCDO), AFC Energy PLC (LON:AFC), GKN Aerospace and the BBC’s Springwatch programme.

The nature show fronted by Chris Packham delivered an episode of its Winterwatch series this week that was entirely fuelled by green hydrogen power, what the BBC said was a world first for a TV outside broadcast.

Live cameras, lighting and broadcast technology at three locations around the UK was powered by intelligent hybrid generators from private company GeoPura, helping replace the use of a diesel-powered generator.

These generators only delivering the power that’s needed at the time, with unused energy diverted to recharge batteries for back-up power.

The BBC said using green hydrogen and energy-saving batteries during one live episode of Winterwatch this week had allowed it to avoid 3.3 tonnes of carbon emissions

GeoPura, which also offers an electric vehicle charging solution, is one of dozens of small and medium-sized companies around the UK that are leading the charge in green hydrogen.

One old-school company that has looking to catch the horse before it has bolted is Ricardo, which on Thursday announced a £2.5mln investment in a hydrogen testing facility.

The 105-year old company said the new hydrogen development and test facility at its Shoreham Technical Centre in the UK will “significantly increase the range of hydrogen and fuel cell services and solutions which can be delivered” to its customers around the world, with the company’s having a strong focus on automotive and industrial sectors.

This comes fresh on the heels of a collaboration agreement between Ricardo’s Energy & Environment division and AFC Energy earlier this month to focus on the use of alkaline fuel cell technology within marine, rail and stationary power.

READ: AFC Energy unveils power generator for Extreme E electric SUV championship

AFC Energy also on Thursday unveiled its new zero-emission power generator that will be featured in the inaugural Extreme E electric SUV racing series, which starts in April with teams run by Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button (https://www.extreme-e.com/en/teams).

The AIM-listed company’s proprietary, zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell technology, which will be used to charge up the vehicles, has been successfully commissioned on schedule and is to be handed over to Extreme E this week.

After being transported to Extreme E’s floating centrepiece at St. Helena, the fuel cell system will then be shipped to the championship’s first race in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia for the Desert X-Prix scheduled for the weekend of the 3rd and 4th of April.

“Hydrogen continues to gain momentum as a viable worldwide platform that affords a key solution to the decarbonisation of sectors where electrification and grid infrastructure is absent,” said AFC chief executive Adam Bond.

“Extreme E’s vision to use motorsport as a platform to introduce new technologies, such as fuel cell technology, to support this goal is to be congratulated and AFC Energy is very proud to be associated with such a landmark initiative.”

Hydrogen-powered aviation

With big net-zero targets to meet, the government is funding hydrogen developments too, including several new grants announced today, with the biggest going to an aviation-focused project led by Melrose Industries’s (LON:MROGKN Aerospace arm.

This was part of £42mln of R&D funding awards unveiled for green aviation, with the money going to three green aerospace projects based in Bedford, Bristol, and Cranfield as part of a scheme that should trigger around £84mln of investment from industry.

One of these is a project known as H2GEAR, led by GKN Aerospace, which has won a £27.2mln grant to support its plans to develop an innovative liquid hydrogen propulsion system for regional air travel. This funding, from the government’s ATI Programme, will be matched by GKN and its industrial partners.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology has a particular interest for the aviation industry as there are hopes it will be able to power the first green aircraft, with less of the weight issues of electric batteries.

Converting liquid hydrogen to create electricity, H2GEAR aims to develop a liquid hydrogen propulsion system for short flights, then scale up the technology over time.

“Hydrogen-powered aircraft offer a clear route to keep the world connected, with dramatically cleaner skies,” said GKN Aerospace’s tech chief, Russ Dunn.

“The UK is at the forefront of this technology, and the H2GEAR project is an example of industry, academia and government collaboration at its best.”

READ: Flying cars to get first dedicated airport in Coventry as part of Hyundai collaboration

One of GKN’s partners is Intelligent Energy, a UK based fuel cell engineering company that specialises in lightweight power modules, which have already been used for hydrogen-powered drones.

Its role in the H2GEAR project is to develop and manufacture its lightweight and compact fuel cells, with the funding helping it complete its development of a new state-of-the-art ‘gigafactory’ in the East Midlands.

Intelligent Energy chief executive David Woolhouse said: “We have a very exciting programme of work over the next few years, including developing leading lightweight fuel cell modules for aerospace. This programme will see us develop the next generation of fuel cell technology and supports the growth of manufacturing right here in the East Midlands.”

Woolhouse said the first hydrogen-powered aircraft could enter into service “as early as 2026”.

Another hydrogen-powered aviation specialist that received some of the government ATI funding is Anglo-American company ZeroAvia, where a £12.3mln government grant will help with the development of its HyFlyer II aircraft.

This 19-seater air-taxi is powered by a hydrogen-electric powertrain that ZeroAvia, which has UK operations in Bedfordshire, said customers can expect to fly on zero-emissions aircraft “as early as the end of 2023”.

Hydrogen buses and trucks too

A groundbreaking land-based hydrogen vehicle will be available as soon as tomorrow, thanks to FirstGroup PLC (LON:FGP)’s bus division.

The world’s first hydrogen powered double-decker bus will hit the roads of Aberdeen on Friday, following a five-year trial of single-decker buses.

Taking ten minutes to refuel and boasting the ability to save 1kg of carbon dioxide per kilometre, the buses have been manufactured by Northern Ireland-based Wrightbus and cost £500,000, with National Express West Midlands the next to roll them out in April 2021.

The double-decker’s hydrogen fuel cell is made by Ballard Power Systems Inc (NASDAQ:BLDP).

After rescuing Wrightbus in 2019, new owner Jo Bamford has laid out plans to roll out at least 3,000 hydrogen buses in the UK by 2024.

Over in the US, truck manufacturer Navistar has teamed up with General Motors’ hydrogen unit for a partnership to get low-emissions articulated lorries on the road in three years.

Navistar will install and test GM’s Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cells in a fleet of trucks with a plan to move the hydrogen trucks with over 500 miles of range per fueling into production by 2024.

The goal is that the Navistar trucks will be able to refuel with hydrogen in a quarter of an hour, Navistar said overnight.

Elsewhere, as an attempt to reduce its reliance on hydrocarbons, Saudi Arabia said this week that it aims to be “another Germany when it comes to renewables”, with big investment in hydrogen production.

Energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said yesterday that the kingdom “will be pioneering”, building on its current work with many countries on green hydrogen projects and those focused on carbon capture, or blue hydrogen.

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