Fuel Type Guide for businesses moving to hydrogen

6 Min Read
#Alternative Fuels, #Transport Technology
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Most businesses are now considering greener alternatives for their vehicles as the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will soon be banned. There’s a variety of alternative fuels to choose from, including hydrogen and HVO, so businesses will need to research all the options available to determine which one is right for their fleet.

To help with the decision-making process, we’ve examined hydrogen fuel in more detail and highlighted the challenges and benefits of using hydrogen vehicles in your fleet.  

What is hydrogen fuel?

Hydrogen is a clean fuel that produces only water vapour when consumed in a fuel cell. It powers vehicles with electricity which is produced internally through chemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen.

It’s expected that hydrogen will have a substantial role in decarbonising fleets in the UK as the technology and infrastructure is undergoing development to make it more accessible for businesses. Not only are hydrogen vehicles beneficial for the environment but they’re also viewed as a more practical solution than electric vehicles, particularly for drivers that travel long distances and have larger vehicles, such as HGVs. This is because they can be recharged in just 5 minutes and have a driving range of up to 500 miles.

What are the differences between hydrogen and electric vehicles?

Both hydrogen and electric vehicles run on electricity, however, the key difference between them is where the electricity is generated from. Electric vehicles are powered by a lithium-ion battery whilst hydrogen vehicles use a hydrogen fuel cell.

These vehicles are emission-free and cost-efficient; however, they present different challenges to businesses which is what sets them apart. Although hydrogen vehicles can easily be refuelled, the current infrastructure is impractical for drivers. In comparison, electric vehicles are slow to recharge and have a limited driving range, but drivers do have access to thousands of charging points across the UK.

It’s likely that hydrogen vehicles will be used in industries, such as haulage and transport, where EV technology is not feasible. However, most fleets that use cars and LCVs will probably use electric vehicles in the future as they are already widely accessible and are cheaper to purchase.

How and where can you fill up a hydrogen vehicle?  

Refuelling a hydrogen vehicle is as quick and straightforward as filling up a petrol or diesel vehicle. Drivers simply need to use a fuel pump at a dedicated hydrogen filling station.

However, the charging infrastructure is extremely inaccessible for businesses as there are currently just six hydrogen filling stations open in the UK, making it difficult for drivers to refuel as and when it’s needed. The availability of hydrogen stations is therefore far too limited, especially since Shell has closed three of its hydrogen sites, so it’s likely that businesses will not invest in these vehicles until this has been resolved. Fortunately, there are plans to introduce more hydrogen stations in the UK and these will focus on accommodating larger vehicles and the latest technology. With a wider selection of refuelling sites available, we can expect to see more hydrogen vehicles on the road in the near future.    

What are the challenges of hydrogen vehicles for businesses?

In addition to the restrictive charging infrastructure, there are challenges with hydrogen vehicles which will impact businesses directly and therefore discourage them from making the switch. The main challenges are:

  • Hard to acquire. The number of hydrogen vehicles currently produced is very limited, making it hard for businesses to use them in their fleets. The transition to hydrogen is therefore likely to be very slow as businesses will need to wait until they become more widely available.
  • High purchase cost. As the range of hydrogen vehicles is minimal, they are currently very expensive to purchase, for example, prices for the Toyota Mirai start from £49,995. This makes it difficult for businesses to find the investment needed to replace their current ICE vehicles with hydrogen alternatives, particularly as many are already struggling with rising costs.
  • Costly to run. The cost efficiency of hydrogen vehicles will be significantly impacted by the vehicle and route taken, especially if drivers have to detour to find a refuelling station. Although it may be less expensive at the pump than petrol and diesel vehicles, it’s likely that hydrogen will cost businesses more overall. However, there are new initiatives being introduced in the UK which are designed to help reduce the cost of hydrogen fuel in the future, such as the creation of a green hydrogen production site.

How can businesses benefit from using hydrogen vehicles?

Although the charging infrastructure needs to be developed and expanded further, hydrogen vehicles are still an appealing option for businesses as they offer several benefits. These include:

  • No harmful vehicle emissions. Not only can businesses help to protect the environment by using hydrogen vehicles in their fleet, but they can also improve brand reputation as carbon emissions will be reduced, showing your business to be environmentally conscious.  
  • Fast to refuel. It takes up to 5 minutes to refuel a hydrogen vehicle, helping to save drivers time on the road. This is significantly quicker than recharging an electric vehicle which can take several hours and cost businesses money in downtime.
  • Durable vehicles. Hydrogen vehicles have been tested rigorously to ensure they can be used safely and reliably in extreme conditions and temperatures. Maintenance costs will be reduced as hydrogen fuel cells are seen as more durable than electric car batteries, so should not need to be replaced or repaired for many years.
  • Long driving range. Hydrogen vehicles have a far longer driving range than electric vehicles, reducing the risk of “range anxiety” as drivers can travel nationwide without needing to worry about regularly refuelling.
  • Exempt from charges. As they produce zero emissions, hydrogen vehicles can enter clean air zones for free. Many large cities in the UK are now introducing these zones so by investing in hydrogen vehicles, businesses can save money on congestion charges.

Due to the various benefits they present, hydrogen vehicles will undoubtedly have a significant role in decarbonising fleets, especially those with HGVs. This is being supported by the UK Government which is hoping to develop a thriving low-carbon hydrogen sector by 2030 through new investments and policies, including the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund.

Vehicle manufacturers are also starting to invest in hydrogen vehicles, with multiple new models due to be released in the next few years. The increased demand will help to warrant the investment needed to open new hydrogen refuelling stations, as more drivers will need to use them. This will help to continue the growth of the hydrogen infrastructure and make these vehicles more accessible for businesses.  

At Right Fuel Card, we help businesses manage their fuel expenditure, so they can save time and money. We provide detailed transaction reports, so you can easily keep track of your spending and then you’ll be sent a weekly invoice which can be accessed through our online account management system. As businesses move to greener alternatives for their fleets, we’ll aim to provide a wider selection of fuel cards that can be used, regardless of the fuel your fleet uses.

Contact our team today at 0113 202 5110 to discuss your options in more detail or explore our range of fuel cards via our quick comparison tool.

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Matt Dodds
Head of Strategic Sales and Partnerships

With over 14 years of experience across two of the leading fuel card companies in the UK, Matt Dodds joined RFC Edenred to help lead the development of products to support our customer's move to EV and other alternative fuels, a transition he feels passionately about.