Earth – The Hydrogen Economy
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We are


November 19, 2021


Who we are

Microcab Industries Ltd is a spin-out company from Coventry University and was established by Professor John Jostins (Professor of Sustainable Transport Design). Microcab was established nearly 20 years ago following Professor Jostins extensive analysis of the climate change problem as it related to transportation, and the realisation that hydrogen would be key to providing a long-term integrated solution to several aspects of the problem (see below), and in particular as fuel for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (known as FCEVs, a vehicle using hydrogen as fuel which generates electricity through fuel cells, hybridised with a small battery to run a motor).

Microcab’ design philosophy from the outset was to maximise all aspects of the sustainability of its products in a clean environment for humans. That meant that at the drawing board stage the primary aims were:

1. To minimise or eliminate all emissions and so address climate change and air pollution;
2. To maximise the efficiency of any of its products in terms of resources used;
3. To maximise the lifecycle of the vehicle through longevity, and the replacement and reusability of all parts of the vehicle and so create a circular economy;
4. To enhance the lives of users and non-users of light vehicle transportation;
5. To do all the above while maintaining the current and future safety and functional standards of light vehicles.

At present Microcab have a fleet of 10 vehicles which achieve the above and are roadworthy in the UK and EU. These vehicles are recognised globally as being worldwide leaders in the automotive technologies used, and the design and production philosophy and methods as being 20 years ahead of its time. As a result Professor Jostins, with the Microcab vehicles, is invited to speak and participate in the development plans for FCEVs and the Hydrogen Economy in countries all over the world, including to COP25 in Chile before it was cancelled and the Future of Mobility and Transport APEX Advisory Committee of the IET India.

The vehicles (the H2EV and the Vianova):
1. Produce no emissions at the tail-pipe;
2. Are ultra-light (up to a third less than the weight of any other current equivalent fossil fuel or electric vehicle).
3. Are economical in hydrogen fuel use and battery resources (a quarter the size of BEV equivalents);
4. Are built on circular economy principles meaning a whole life cycle of 20 years with a leasable period of up to 10 years

At present Microcab are in the process of developing a 2 tonne FCEV van after market research, including with a worldwide leader in car financing and leasing, showing that industry is finding battery electric vehicles do not service their needs for last mile or hub delivery.

Earlier Microcab Responses to the UK target of 2035

Microcab Industries Ltd has already provided responses to the UK Government on many of these questions in three documents in February 2020 when the UK Government first announced the new targets, as follows:

1. The report/plan itself (link here) ; and
2. An addendum on how to expand Hydrogen Refuelling Stations (HRSs) cheaply according to population and geography in the UK (link here); and
3. A PowerPoint presentation (in pdf) on the current and future state of Hydrogen Technology use as of January 2020 (link here).

Additionally a recent updated version of these documents addressing the Hydrogen Economy in Scotland, and containing more detailed information on different sectors of industry is in a Microcab response to a Scottish Government Questionnaire here, which is referred to later.
What the Microcab report is based on economically is several studies on hydrogen and renewables the most notable of which is an analysis of 139 countries by Stanford University about the economic advantages and possibilities of large scale transition to renewables and hydrogen over the next 30 years referred to here, with individual analyses of 139 countries here, and a summary of the projected means of energy production, including the production of associated new jobs in the UK at 2050 here.

Specific Responses to questions asked by OLEV

1. The Phase Out Date
The phase out date as set (of 2035) is very ambitious, and in the opinion of Microcab and many other commentators unachievable without:

a. At least a 50/50 approach to Battery Electric Vehicles and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles;
b. A detailed analysis of what the long-term integrated solution to emissions and energy will be, what the relative costs are and will be and what the short, medium and long term risks and benefits will be;
c. Build up of infrastructure;
i. Hydrogen refuelling stations
ii. Charging points
iii. Distribution
d. Encouragement and finance to manufacturers to start marketing and manufacturing in volume to reduce prices to consumers and to be in step to the expansion of infrastructure
e. Incentivisation (especially to fleet purchasers) for the purchase of FCEV’s & EVs;
f. Encouragement/Incentivisation to Local/Public Authorities to change all aspects of their fleets to FCEV/EVs including heavy, PSV and light vehicles with accompanying infrastructure available to the public.

2. The definition of what should be phased out
Microcab believe that all fossil fuel vehicle sales can be phased out by 2035 provided the government get behind an ambitious and funded programme of change with the government using their position to facilitate the growth and acceptance of the nascent renewable, hydrogen and EV industries.

The phasing out could itself be phased by bringing in regulations for HGV and PSVs, initially for local/public authorities, in parallel with a programme for creating infrastructure to service fuelling needs. Many local authorities and regions are already looking at such programmes and some, in particular Scotland, are already advanced in terms of renewables, hydrogen and EVs and could be run as a beta test in various aspects of phasing out and the conversion to fossil free fuels generally.

An ambitious programme of phasing out fossil fuels should necessarily mean an ambitious programme of investment in renewables, hydrogen and FCEV’s & EVs and experience and expertise in roll-out of such programmes which would in itself be a saleable commodity for the early adopters. The UK is in a good position to do this with nearly 40% renewable supply to the grid at present, a large amount of academic, industrial and commercial expertise, most of whom are in contact with each other and used to working collaboratively towards a common goal, and so become a commercial leader in such technologies and their roll-out to countries which over the next two decades will be increasingly investing in renewables, hydrogen and FCEV’s & EVs.

3. The barriers to achieving the ambitions set out in the consultation
The main barriers are leaving the issue to the market alone and without public-private planning and initiatives. Though there has been some state support in the UK for green initiatives, it has not been in an integrated and forward looking way, and much of the development which logically would involve national level planning have been left to local authorities or individual companies. An example of this is the white paper on energy (The UK’s Draft Integrated National Energy And Climate Plan (NECP)) which was theoretically ready in March 2019 but, due to various circumstances, has not been put before parliament, nor has it been updated to include major changes and advances since last year.

Most comparable countries looking at phasing out fossil fuels have already set out comprehensive plans and implementation in some has already begun (e.g. Japan which was planning to showcase its major renewable and hydrogen facilities and development during the 2020 Olympics). It should also be said that disastrous though COVID has been, it provides a unique Year Zero opportunity in terms of kick-starting an economy when all others major industrial nations are kick-starting from the same level. As renewables and hydrogen are going to cross the tipping point globally in the 2020s and be the dominant forces from the 2030s onwards (particularly solar and hydrogen for developing countries) a forward thinking ambitious and integrated plan will give great advantages to the countries that succeed in implementing it.

Transportation in particular is the vanguard of the reduction in emissions as it is clearly visible, participated in by all sections of society, and perceived as a major contributor to emissions (though in fact it only contributes some 21% of all emissions worldwide). As such, to affect the perception of change, and fighting climate change, transportation is the most obvious area to lead that change and provide the nudge towards change in other areas such as electricity production and the gas grid.

However, transportation requires investment in the infrastructure necessary for FCEV & EVs to replace FF vehicles and this is the biggest decelerator of change as without the infrastructure public and commercial take up is limited, but more importantly the major manufacturers, will not market larger volumes of cars to the UK, or embark on major marketing campaigns. For example, Toyota and Hyundai, the world’s leading FCEV manufacturers will not sell vehicles to anyone who is not within 25 miles of an HRS, severely limiting sales to UK purchasers, despite demand.

The UK government has committed itself to investment in infrastructure by jointly funding a £400m project to expand the charging infrastructure of Battery Electric vehicles (BEVs). Initially it was proposed that national coverage for hydrogen refuelling for FCEVs could be achieved with 65 HRSs, but Microcab have shown that seed funding of as little as £20m could fund 20 HRSs, which strategically placed according to population centres would mean that more than half the population would not only be within 25 miles of an HRS, but within 10 miles.
The UK government could overcome significant other barriers by making its intent known, not only by funding, but also by becoming the facilitator for the various industries needed for EVs, and particularly the hydrogen economy and FCEVs, given this provides an integrated solution to many of the issues surrounding carbon emissions and energy production and use. If the government adopted this position, then its facilitation would lead to a properly integrated public private plan for energy in the UK, but without it, many industries will struggle to gain a foothold and progress will inevitably be delayed.

4. The impact of these ambitions on different sectors of industry and society
As the lockdown has shown, the effect of reducing emissions, pollution and noise does have a dramatic effect on the quality of life of all people in the UK but particularly those who have medical conditions, especially respiratory ones (see appended diagram).
Obviously, there will have to be a planned phasing out of reliance on all aspects of petrol and diesel for vehicles which is highly likely to also mean a reduction in all uses of fossil fuels. At the same time there should be an increase of all aspects of renewable energy electricity production, production of hydrogen as storage and fuel and the support of sufficient infrastructure for EVs of all sorts.

One aspect that is important to all of this, and could cushion the impact of this change from fossil fuels to renewables with less or zero emissions, is the flexibility of renewable electricity production compared with traditional sources of electricity. Because renewables can produce electricity from an industrial multi gigawatt level to a domestic kilowatt level a different model of electricity production is possible where localised and domestic production can supply local and domestic electricity needs (including the re-charging of vehicles and production of hydrogen) and can feed in to the grid. A model for this is being developed in various countries, notably the USA (link here) and an example of how this could work is a standard UK domestic solar PV set up of 25m2 could refuel a tank of the Vianova with one day’s production (1.8 Kg – 200 miles range).

5. What measures are required by government and others to achieve the earlier phase out date
Most of the measures have been indicated above, and further details are in the linked reports. The most fundamental measure is to twin track both BEVs and FCEVs and so the Hydrogen Economy. As can be seen above, large aspects of the Hydrogen Economy are in fact cheaper than those of BEVs and its infrastructure, and long term the flexibility and adaptability of Hydrogen, particularly green hydrogen which is predicted to be less costly than blue hydrogen by 2030, will mean it provides solutions in other areas of UK National Energy Policy.

Chandra Sekar
NED, Microcab Industries Ltd
+44 7771-536010
29 May 2020