Ingredients: hydrogen, oxygen
Tools required: fuel cell, electric motor
Result: electric power
Waste: clean water
As a recovering oil and gas engineer, I found the West of England Aerospace Forum’s (WEAF) Hydrogen Summit this week one of my most stimulating experiences of a COVID blighted year.
Hydrogen, derived from water, has the potential to leapfrog electricity as the power of choice for many trains, planes and automobiles within a decade. Business West is already the proud owner of a hydrogen powered car which is great for getting around Wiltshire and back and forth to Bristol, but don’t expect to get much further than Taunton if you need to get back to the UK’s most westerly hydrogen filling station in Swindon!
Congratulations to WEAF for taking the plunge with this summit. It was usefully structured around three themes: supply of hydrogen, potential uses of hydrogen and how to make the hydrogen market work.
A fascinating array of speakers from all sides lined up to explain the challenges and opportunities in their part of the industry, with a final call to all involved of how we in the South West can accelerate this new route to a greener future and capture some of the economic and job benefits that will flow.
The topical drivers of a burgeoning interest in hydrogen are technological advancement, societal pressures and government low carbon legislation re decarbonisation. The barriers are regulation and safety, but predominantly by the commercial risk versus reward trade-offs involved in the required large scale financial investment.
Whilst behind the UK curve, the South West has enormous potential to make green hydrogen; wind, tides, waves and sometimes sunshine are no strangers to our part of the UK, all of which could be harnessed to create green hydrogen. Water is abundant and even desalinated seawater can be used as feedstock for hydrogen production.
The commercial risks can be reduced by the clustering of users, which in turn ought to encourage the suppliers of hydrogen to invest in production, storage and supply solutions (a South West hydrogen car filling station network please!).
Locally, Bristol City Council, Bristol Airport and the massive South West aerospace industry all have ambitions and huge pressures to decarbonise and hydrogen could be part of the answer. One of the summit’s key takeaways was that by working together we can reduce risks, costs and accelerate investment in the supply of, and reduce the price of, hydrogen.
Such clustering does take regional leadership, and Business West is up for playing our part in this. Just imagine the raft of spin outs, start-ups and innovation if we in the South West truly get behind this new growth area and how talent from around the world might be attracted to our region to ply their advanced engineering skills and energies in an industry that is saving the planet.