Tees Valley: First in the UK to host hydrogen transport trials

The Tees Valley is to host the first hydrogen transport trials in the UK. 

Four projects will share £2.5 million to develop hydrogen-powered vehicles - this includes an HGV and forklift truck.

This is part of plans from the government to make the UK the world’s leading “hydrogen economy."

It hopes the scheme could pave the way for use across all transport, to create a greener network.

  • Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen:

After successful trials, it will aim to lead to supermarkets, emergency services and delivery companies using hydrogen-powered transport to move goods and carry out local services.

The hydrogen transport hub could be fully operational by 2025.

  • What is the 'hydrogen economy'?

Hydrogen is one of the few sources of energy you can use without producing carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. When you burn it, it produces nothing but heat and pure water. 

Most energy experts see hydrogen as the only practical way many sectors of the economy can meet net-zero climate change targets. Particularly ones that are currently reliant on natural gas or liquid fossil fuels (like heavy industry, chemical refining, and transportation).

  • Why has hydrogen never been used before as a fuel?

There’s a reason hydrogen never took off as a fuel in the past: it has a tendency to explode

It’s one of the main reasons why no one has (yet) tried replacing natural gas with hydrogen as a source of fuel in our homes.

Aside from safety, hydrogen is likely to corrode the existing gas pipe network, and the tiny molecules leak out of cracks more easily than chunkier natural gas molecules.

It’s why most energy experts predict hydrogen won’t end up being used as a fuel for heating homes or cooking food.

The real market for it will be in replacing gas in industrial furnaces, or fossil fuels current used as the raw material in the fertiliser industry, and for powering fuel cells in hydrogen trains, lorries and buses.

  • Is it really the answer to lowering carbon emissions?

Many experts warn blue hydrogen still has a high carbon footprint, and the technology for storing the left-over carbon dioxide is unproven at scale. 

Jess Ralston, an analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: "The government should be alive to the risk of gas industry lobbying causing it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen and so keeping the country locked into fossil fuel based technology, making reaching net zero more difficult and costly."

It’s noteworthy that the co-chair of the government’s Hydrogen Advisory Council is the UK boss of oil major Shell.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "With less than 100 days to go until COP26, I’m committed to supporting industry to develop innovative new technologies that will decarbonise transport, helping us to build back greener and level up the country.

"By harnessing the power of hydrogen technology, we can pave the way for its use across all transport modes, creating cleaner, greener more efficient transport systems across the UK.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: "Through trialling the use of hydrogen in transport across Teesside, Darlington, and Hartlepool, we are spearheading the path to a greener future by developing the knowledge and expertise needed to roll hydrogen out as a fuel source across the country.

"In Teesside we already produce 50 percent of the UK’s hydrogen, so there is no better place for this research to take place."