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The future of hydrogen and batteries in transportation – Where will we be in 2050?

The Faraday Institution – the UK’s flagship battery research programme – has published a report looking at the feasibility of hydrogen and battery technologies across various forms of transport, manufacturing and power; and considered how they might be rolled out in the future, and by ‘future’ they specifically mean the net zero finishing line of 2050.

The report was commissioned by The Faraday Institution and authoured by DNV Services, independent experts in assurance and risk management.

white biplane

Professor Pam Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, Faraday Institution said: ‘Batteries and hydrogen have distinct characteristics and should largely be viewed as complementary rather than competing technologies. Both will require significant technological advance and extensive scale up of manufacturing and deployment if the UK is to meet its obligation to reach net zero by 2050. The varying timescales of their rollout leads to considerable uncertainties in predicted market share profiles over time.’

Here we summarise the report’s predictions on the future role of both energy sources in each transport sector.

Road Transport

The report predicts that the future here leans towards the electric, particularly with passenger vehicles. It is expected that BEVs will reach price parity with ICE vehicles in 2026, from when their sales will accelerate to the point that by 2030, EVs will account for over 92% of new passenger vehicle sales, with PHEVs accounting for the remaining 8%.

Hydrogen will make a small dent in car the market, with hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) finding a niche market in which higher range and fast refuelling is a priority.

Hydrogen will be more attractive to the heavy-duty sector, where battery technology is unable to meet the performance requirements. 

Aviation

Responsible for over 20% of the UK’s transport emissions, aircraft have proved difficult to tackle. Indeed, the report believes that petroleum-based aviation fuel will still represent around half of the energy mix by 2050, the other half made up of biofuels (22%), e-fuels (14%), hydrogen (7%) and electric (5%).

For aircraft to run on batteries, their energy density would need dramatically improving and current thinking is that this will not happen quickly enough, although batteries are expected to be widely adopted for short-haul flights.

Hydrogen is expected to become the predominant fuel in aviation but not by 2050, due to the need to comprehensively redesign aircraft before they can use it.

Maritime

Electric is likely to be widely adopted among specialist, short-haul shipping such as ferries but as with aircraft, their energy density precludes them from any more ambitious function. 

Hydrogen will be the go-to fuel but not in its pure form, instead it will be used to produce ammonia and e-methanol, with ammonia predicted to be the energy source in 35% of shipping by 2050, with e-fuels including e-methanol contributing 14%.

Rail

Rail transportation in the UK makes up 10% of distance travelled but contributes only 2% of the UK’s transport emissions. Plans are already in place to to electrify 85% of the unelectrified track and where that is not possible it is expected that battery, hydrogen and hybrid solutions will be used.

Battery power is the preferred source but range and charging times are hurdles to be overcome. 

Conclusion

The report concludes that among all the sectors it covers, transport is the one in which both battery and hydrogen vie with each other the most.

In summary, however, they come down on the side of battery: ‘The analysis undertaken as part of this report shows that hydrogen is in many applications expected to be more expensive and overall less efficient compared to direct electrification and should therefore be thought of as the low carbon energy carrier of last resort.

‘Electrification on the other hand is typically the most efficient energy carrier, with battery technology used where storage is required. Therefore, renewables should ideally first be used to reduce the use of fossil fuels in the electricity mix, with hydrogen production via electrolysis being deployed later in the transition.’

Hari Vamadevan, Executive Vice President and Regional Director UK & Ireland of Energy Systems at DNV, said: ‘As we strive to decarbonise and meet net zero ambitions, the energy landscape will be evolving at a faster pace, with batteries and hydrogen being key contributors to this transition. We are delighted to showcase DNV’s unique combination of industry expertise and independent analysis from our Energy Transition Outlook model to forecast the role that each technology will play across the energy demand sectors.’

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