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The Hydrogen Tech Revolution

Eleanor Hubble
22 October 2020

JCB

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently stated that the UK leads the world in hydrogen technology, and hopes this is an area which will create jobs and help lead to economic recovery. 

So far hydrogen has powered micro-taxis, trucks, boats, vans, buses, even small planes, and now the latest type of vehicle to be powered by hydrogen is the digger.

Hydrogen power works by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate electricity, it’s only direct emission is water. 

The 2020s aren’t the first time hydrogen power has been popular, in the early 2000s many believed it would lead the way in green automotive technology. However, the fossil fuel alternative just didn’t take off, and this was due to a couple of reasons. 

Firstly, hydrogen power required huge amounts of new infrastructure – whereas existing petrol, diesel and even battery powered vehicles all had the fuelling and charging points they needed. 

Secondly, high powered batteries were already being used for a number of technologies, but hydrogen was not. 

These days hydrogen power is back in the running to fulfil transport, industry and heating tasks that batteries aren’t able to cope with. 

To use diggers as an example, JCB has a small battery powered digger prototype which can fit through doorways and work in buildings. In order to scale this battery power up to power a full size digger, the battery would weigh five tonnes and take hours to recharge. Hydrogen weighs next to nothing, and a fuel tank could be filled within minutes. 

The same concept applies to lorries, buses and cars, so in theory if the charging infrastructure issue could be solved by installing hydrogen pumps on motorways and in towns, then plug-in cars carrying heavy batteries could become a thing of the past. Fears of hydrogen tanks exploding have been allayed with the invention of Kevlar-lined storage tanks. 

This week Welsh hydrogen vehicle start-up company Riversimple shared plans to raise £150m within the next three years in order to construct two manufacturing plants in Wales which would produce some of the UK's first hydrogen-powered cars and vans. 

To read more on hydrogen power, click here

This story is adapted from a BBC news article, with editorial changes made by the METaL Project.