UK could be centre of excellence for fuel cell production


The UK must learn from mistakes it made with batteries and make its mark on a global stage when investing in hydrogen, the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) has said.

On 22 March, the APC stressed the UK could dominate European fuel cell production and become a centre of excellence globally, as hydrogen continues to be offered up as a potential solutions with the world looking to end its reliance on fossil fuels for heat and transport. According to its analysis of the fuel cell and hydrogen tank systems, the most valuable components could be mass manufactured in the UK. This would reduce reliance on overseas markets and help to build sustainable UK-based jobs.

The APC is forecasting rapid growth in fuel cell platforms for light duty vehicles from 2030. This will happen as hydrogen refuelling networks expand and hydrogen as a fuel at the pump falls to $4-5/kg. The APC said it expects 14GW of on-board fuel stack power and 400,000 hydrogen carbon fibre tanks will be needed to meet the demands of FCEV production in the UK by 2035, equating to 140,000 vehicles. Furthermore, a clear role is also emerging for hydrogen combustion. This is especially the case in medium and heavy-duty sectors, with APC forecasting that come 2040, across Europe, 40% of new HGVs sold will be battery electric, 30% fuel cell and 15% hydrogen combustion.

It highlighted how the UK produced 1.3mn vehicles in the UK in 2019, pre-pandemic, and 2.5mn light duty engines, worth estimated total of £8.5bn, with 80% of these exported to Europe. The APC is supporting projects for hydrogen combustion engines with Cummins and Dolphin N2, while it further noted that most manufactured vehicles in the UK are types of vehicle where power, utility, range and off-road capability are important and could benefit from a hydrogen powertrain. With export and trade tariffs demanding a certain level of local manufacturing, the APC is calling to localise the supply chain and anchor vehicle production in the UK.

APC CEO, Ian Constance, explained: “We already have 15% of the fuel cell value chain radiating from UK businesses but this could be as much as 65% just by expanding on current strengths in electrochemistry and coatings or using our automotive capability to volume manufacture components like bipolar plates and stack assemblies. Investment will be needed to retain this leading position but we’re sharing this insight in the hope it helps industry and government make long-term strategic decisions.”