The government needs to step up and support the development of purpose-built hydrogen-powered HGVs and help fund fleet retrofitting services.

The call comes from the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UK HFCA) in a positioning paper, released this week.

The paper is urging the government to provide financial support to retrofit existing HGV vehicles and to develop purpose-built hydrogen combustion HGVs.

It also calls for government action to roll out trials of hydrogen powered vehicles and funding for further research into the technology.

The document, dubbed The Case for Hydrogen Combustion, also stresses the need for new legislation to be drawn up to allow the qualification of hydrogen combustion within transport applications.

Celia Greaves, chief executive of UK HFCA, said this approach will allow early and low-cost decarbonisation solutions across transport as the UK moves to meet its net zero target.

“The need to decarbonise and mitigate climate change has put the spotlight on combustion processes because the emissions from burning fossil fuels are responsible for global warming,” she said.

“However, it is the carbon in these fuels that are the root cause of the CO2 emissions from the exhaust and tailpipes and the actual energy is released from the hydrogen molecules in the fuels.

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“It stands to reason, therefore, that burning hydrogen directly - rather than in conjunction with the carbon - will not generate greenhouse gas emissions and presents an obvious solution – a key role - to facilitate the transition to net zero.”

The positioning paper was created by the UK HFCA’s hydrogen combustion working group, which includes experts in the hydrogen sector and across transport and power.

The paper argues that while burning hydrogen is not new, “the downsides of using a light gas, developing the supply chain and producing the pure hydrogen in the first place has meant that it lost out to more energy dense and accessible fuels such as diesel, petrol and natural gas”.

The report added: “It is only now, when we understand the environmental imperative, that innovators are looking at hydrogen combustion to be part of the future solutions to decarbonisation, on the basis that applying existing know-how, manufacturing capabilities and supply chains, will offer a more cost-effective and faster scaled solution to a number of applications.”

Amanda Lyne, MD at UlemCo and chair of the hydrogen combustion working group at the UK HFCA, said: “In terms of transport, research is already demonstrating that the efficiency of hydrogen combustion engines is approaching that of hydrogen fuel cells for trucks, tractors, and construction equipment.

“And this can be done at the same time as exceeding all the other stringent standards for air-quality, that are necessary to meet all the requirements of modern vehicle solutions.

“Retrofit and purpose-designed engines could transform the CO2 emissions of our transport sector alongside fuel cells and electrification.”

Key demands made by the positioning paper include the provision of finance support for the retrofitting of legacy fleet vehicles, finance support for the development and scale-up of purpose-built HGVs and the commissioning of real world trials of hydrogen engines alongside hydrogen fuel cell-powered alternatives to build comparison data to support investment.