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By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 04/07/23

Iveco taking control of its joint venture with Nikola is a shot in the arm for hydrogen as a fuel for heavy vehicles. Expect changes soon. UPDATED!

Iveco's decision to take ownership of the joint venture with Nikola is a significant step towards driving the fuel cell industry and the FCEV market forward. A major heavy vehicle brand backing hydrogen encouraging news for the industry. Whilst the hope in hydrogen has been gaining traction recently, with countries such as the US, India, Norway and the EU ploughing large funds into hydrogen production and infrastructure in the coming years, it also has vocal detractors.

Pinned against the backdrop of claims of Hydrogen’s expense as a fuel for heavy vehicles it may encourage other major heavy vehicle manufacturers to review their technological trajectory.

The jury is still out on hydrogen as a transport fuel. Proponents pint to the fact that Hydrogen is the most abundant element available to us and that with further development it can be made economical viable. Opponents dismiss it as too expensive and cumbersome to be used in mass transport applications. Currently the market is bearing the opponents out. News from hydrogen car trailblazer Toyota that it has shipped fewer than 25,000 units of its Mirai hydrogen fuelled family car since 2014, combined with the fact that sales actually fell in 2022 is disappointing to say the least. In terms of haulage transport the “hydrogen is too expensive” argument is being made by MAN Group. It’s CEO, Alexander Vlaskamp believes that whilst hydrogen may have a role to play in fuelling exceptionally heavy loads, the market will be dominated by electric battery powered.

This might be so, but Hydrogen’s cheer leaders have a different perspective. They argue that whether we mine for fossil fuels or mine for lithium, we are still mining and that there has to be a better way. The French Government’s funding of HyAMMED an ambitious programme aiming to replace fossil fuel haulage in the south of France (and of which Iveco has no small interest) is part of a wider push by governments around the world to nurture their hydrogen industries.

Iveco's decision to take ownership of the joint venture with Nikola maybe marks a moment in time for the market: Where hydrogen begins to stake out its real market. Iveco has clearly seen hydrogen as a possible route to carbon free road haulage. For Nikola, we believe this was a crucial deal. We expect Iveco to impose its requirements on Nikola fairly early on. It will invest in restructuring the company, we expected job losses, which were indeed announced last month. We also expect to see further development, organisational restructuring and possibly some rebranding in the coming months.


We didn’t publish this in time to pre-date this piece of news regarding the re-branding of Iveco Nikola!

By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 28/06/23

The US Inflation Reduction Act 2022 (IRA) is a comprehensive piece of legislation that aims to tackle the issue of inflation in the United States. The act encompasses a range of measures designed to reduce inflation, including tax cuts, spending reductions, and regulatory reform.

In addition to its focus on inflation, the act also includes provisions related to carbon reduction as well as subsidies and tax breaks across of a range of industries including pharma, transport and manufacturing. These provisions aim to support the United States' efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and address the threat of climate change.

The scope of the act is wide-ranging, reflecting the fact that inflation is a complex issue that affects many areas of the economy. The act includes measures such as increasing funding for renewable energy and green technology research and development, providing tax incentives for individuals and businesses that invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements, and implementing regulations that encourage the use of green technologies and discourage the use of fossil fuels.

Early Impact on US Carbon Reduction Journey

Whilst even the most enthusiastic American Democrat will argue that it is perhaps too early to tell if IRA is indeed tackling inflation, the early signs are promising. Of course IRA will never be responsible in isolation for driving inflation down, but no doubt economists on both sides of the political divide will be watching and analysing these numbers and other economic indicators through their own prisms in the coming months.

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In terms of the early impact of IRA on the country's carbon reduction journey we can point to some indications that it has indeed been positive. The act has provided funding for a number of carbon-cutting initiatives, including investments in renewable energy such as wind and solar power, grants for research and development of new green technologies, and funding for energy efficiency improvements in buildings and homes.

These initiatives have already begun to yield results. For example, the investment in renewable energy has led to a significant increase in the amount of wind and solar power generated in the United States. Additionally, the grants for research and development have led to the creation of new, more efficient green technologies.

The early impact of the act on the country's carbon reduction journey is a promising sign that the US is taking meaningful steps towards addressing climate change. By investing in renewable energy and green technology, and funding research and development, the country is positioning itself as a leader in the fight against climate change.

Suggestions for future climate policy in the US

While IRA has already had a positive impact on the country's carbon reduction journey, there are ways in which it could be used to even greater effect in the future. We suggest

  • Increasing funding for tangential and complimentary technological R&D. As an example, we have previously pointed out the use of graphene in H2, the gains the material would make for fuel cell efficiency, and the lack of a cost effective process for the mass production of high quality graphene production. By increasing the focus on these promising areas of research, the US might be able to accelerate the commercialisation of promising new technologies that will help to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Focus on it’s energy infrastructure. Can it cope with the increased sources of electricity that are emerging? We have seen in the UK how the long term lack of investment in the energy sector in the UK has led to a bottleneck in connecting new energy supply to the existing grid architecture. Ensuring that its infrastructure is able to absorb energy from new solar and wind arrays is a no-brainer.
  • Providing tax incentives for individuals and businesses that invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements: By providing incentives, the US can encourage more individuals and businesses to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements, which will help to further reduce carbon emissions.
  • Implementing regulations that encourage the use of green technologies and discourage the use of fossil fuels: By implementing regulations, the United States can incentivize the use of green technologies and discourage the use of fossil fuels, which will help to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.

It’s still early days, but we see a lot of potential that IRA will lead to increased climate-focused activity in the US economy. Indeed it has been estimated that almost 150,000 clean energy jobs have been created since IRA was enacted. These jobs are important. Not just for the economy, but also in building some semblance of unity around IRA. Even the most right-wing of the Republican Party representatives, whilst quibbling about the “green agenda” welcome the jobs in their States.

We’ll be watching, measuring, comparing and assessing the successes and failures of IRA in the following months.

By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 13/06/23

Graphene with ripples could help make better hydrogen fuel cells, according to a recent study published in the journal Science Advances. The findings could lead to more efficient hydrogen fuel cells. Graphene, a material made of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, is known for its exceptional mechanical and electrical properties including high conductivity and tensile strength. In recent years, graphene has been studied extensively for its potential in various applications, including energy storage and conversion.

The new study focused on the use of graphene with ripples, which are deformations in the graphene lattice that occur naturally or can be induced through various methods. The researchers found that these ripples can enhance the performance of hydrogen fuel cells by increasing the rate of proton transfer, a crucial step in the process of converting hydrogen and oxygen into electricity.

The study used computer simulations to model the behavior of hydrogen ions, or protons, as they interacted with a graphene surface with and without ripples. The results showed that the ripples created a more favorable environment for proton transfer, reducing the energy barrier and increasing the efficiency of the process.

The researchers also tested their findings experimentally, using a graphene oxide membrane with ripples as a catalyst in a hydrogen fuel cell. The results showed a significant improvement in the fuel cell's performance, with a higher current density and lower overpotential, which is the extra energy needed to start the reaction.

The promise of better hydrogen fuel cells with graphene has implications beyond clean energy. Hydrogen fuel cells are also used in various industries, including transportation, aerospace, and telecommunications. Improving their efficiency and durability could lead to more cost-effective and reliable applications.

In the transportation sector, hydrogen fuel cells have been touted as a potential alternative to traditional gasoline engines, with several automakers already offering or planning to offer hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. However, their high cost and limited range have been a barrier to widespread adoption. Improving the efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells could address these concerns and make them a more viable option for clean transportation.

In the aerospace industry, hydrogen fuel cells have been used in space missions, where their high energy density and low weight make them ideal for powering spacecraft. However, their durability in harsh environments like space has been a challenge. Graphene with ripples could potentially enhance their durability and make them more reliable for space applications.

The recent study on graphene with ripples and its potential to improve hydrogen fuel cells is a promising development in the pursuit of clean energy. With the potential to enhance the efficiency and durability of hydrogen fuel cells, graphene could play a critical role in the transition to a more sustainable future. While there are challenges to be addressed, the potential benefits are worth pursuing, and further research could lead to more innovative and effective solutions.

By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 01/06/23

The decision by The UK Labour Party to scale back its £28bn per year green agenda is short-sighted, dangerous and sends completely the wrong message to voters, clean tech investors and innovators.

Earlier this month, June 2023 Labour’s shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves announced that its pledge to spend £28bn per year throughout the next parliament if it is successful in forming a government after the next General Election. The announcement was seized upon by the UKs mostly right-wing media as proof of Labour’s inability to manage the country’s finances, but more measured voices were more concerned about what the party might further roll back on should the economy worsen.

Labour has historically struggled, fairly or otherwise, with its reputation on the economy. To counter these charges, just as Gordon Brown highlighted his intention to be “prudent” with the public purse before Labour’s 1997 General Election win, Reeves has been warning that a new Labour government will not be reckless with public finances. Understandable from an electioneering point of view but, as far as the party’s Green Prosperity Agenda is concerned, its disappointing in a number of ways.

Rachel Reeve’s argument for taming spending in the first 2 years of a Labour government was two-fold. Firstly that the economic situation is much worse than expected at the time of the announcement. Secondly that there would be an unavoidable lag while the country scales up the skills and infrastructure to deliver the Green Prosperity Agenda. At first glance, these sound like reasonable arguments. But neither bears any close examination. On the first point, even if the full catastrophe of Conservative’s reckless Autumn 2022 mini-budget hadn’t been foreseen it has been clear for some years now that the economy would be in a perilous state in at the time of the next parliament. Whatever happened to planning for the best scenario, and preparing for the worst?

On the 2nd point, if its true now that some ramp-up time is required before the full £28bn allocation could be used effectively only after the ramp-up period, it would also have been true when the policy was announced. Either its an excuse, or someone at Labour Strategy HQ didn’t do their homework.

Beyond the nitpicking, we are more concerned about what this means for Labour’s commitment to decarbonisation and its ability to hold its nerve in the face of adversity. If the budget so desperately needed for its Green agenda can be delayed before Labour even achieves government, its whole premise serves only as a hostage to future events. We only have to see how the plans for HS2 have been continually scaled back in the face of mounting costs and diminishing budgets to see how bold visions can quickly become millstones. Worryingly, decarbonisation the economy promises to make laying a railway track down the middle of the country look like a walk in the park. Who is going to invest in a plan that at its very outset looks ripe for culling to appease stock markets. Which companies are going to commit time and resources to Labour’s plan if at the first sign of a problem the money starts to disappear? If Labour can make these policy changes now, can they be trusted with our votes to deliver on their promises?

By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 30/03/23

The Hydrogen Champion Report, written by Jane Toogood, the Chief Executive of Catalyst Technologies at Johnson Matthey and Co-Chair of the Hydrogen Advisory Council, was published earlier this week - March 2023. It provides recommendations to the UK government and to industry for accelerating the development of the UK’s H2 economy. The report highlights the importance of a clear and consistent policy framework, investment in infrastructure, and building public support for hydrogen as a clean energy source. The report also recommends the establishment of a Hydrogen Delivery Unit to oversee the implementation of the recommendations. By following these recommendations, the UK can become a global leader in the production and use of hydrogen as a clean energy source. All well and good as far as this goes. But lets take a look at the specific recommendaions made by Toogood:

  • Making a decision on whether to begin blending hydrogen into the gas grid by 2023. This would allow the UK to start building a hydrogen infrastructure and would help to reduce carbon emissions from the heating and transport sectors.
  • Making it mandatory for all boilers being sold and installed in the UK from a certain date to be 'hydrogen ready'. This would ensure that the UK is prepared for a future where hydrogen is a major source of energy.
  • Providing more funding for research and development into hydrogen technologies. This would help to reduce the cost of hydrogen and make it more competitive with other forms of energy.
  • Creating a more supportive regulatory environment for hydrogen. This would include making it easier to get planning permission for hydrogen projects and providing financial incentives for the development of hydrogen infrastructure.
  • Promoting the UK as a global leader in hydrogen technologies. This would help to attract investment and create jobs in the UK hydrogen sector.

Those last 3 points I don’t think any but the most mealy-mouthed would argue with. Those first two recommendations cannot be passed over without comment.

Blending Hydrogen

The blending of hydrogen into the existing gas network is contentious, to say the least. The premise of its inclusion is that it is a kind of a quick win. Quick, perhaps. A win? The jury is out. In fact, no. The answer is no. Clean hydrogen is costly, at least for now. To pump it into the gas network would be to replace one expensive gas with another and doesn’t really represent an efficient use of a precious commodity. If we’re looking for quick wins, we’d have to agree with Michael Liebreich and displace the mountain of grey hydrogen thats being fed into making fertilsers.

Given that blending H2 into the Gas pipe network, it follows that H2 boilers would be a blind alley, especially as air source heat pumps are proving to be more dependable than has been predicted, working efficiently in sub-zero conditions.

Finally we are disappointed that there is still so much emphasis on CCUS throughout the paper. Undoubtedly CCUS could be useful in the short term to sequester the delta of CO2 produced between now and a carbon-free future point. But the very idea of the technology appears in our view to promote the continued use of fossil fuels, as if capture and storage can solve the CO2 conundrum. It cannot. It won’t. We need to move our thinking on and increasingly focus on innovation that will eradicate the need for fossil fuels, not make us feel better about using them.

There’s a lot to agree with in the Hydrogen Champion’s report, and attention to Hydrogen, a market the UK could be a major player in, given its renewable energy profile is always welcome. But there’s also much to think about. There are better, more efficient ways to use H2 quickly and effectively. We need to think more about eliminating grey H2 from the energy mix and we really need to stop this idea that CCUS is going to be anything but a sticking plaster. Rather than build technologies that mean we perpetuate our hydrocarbon addiction lets find ways to eliminating the need for them altogether.

By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 20/03/23

It’s a classic vicious circle. Electricity producers work to produce energy for an emerging nation. The people of that nation, unable to afford the energy produced, in desperation risk their lives to access the energy illegally, bypassing meters. The energy producer sees its costs rise and its income reduced, meaning that they don’t invest in cleaner, renewable energy generation, thereby unable to provide cheaper electricity that their customers can afford. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in parts of sub Saharan Africa, particularly in countries with limited resources and infrastructure. estimate that electricity theft in Africa costs the sector billions of dollars every year, leading to financial losses for power companies, increased prices for legal customers, and unreliable electricity supply for many communities. Electricity theft has significant consequences for both the energy sector and society as a whole. It can lead to blackouts, damage to electrical infrastructure, and even fatalities from electrocution. Additionally, it can hinder economic development by discouraging foreign investment and increasing the cost of doing business in affected areas.

But why is this happening and what solutions exist to tackle the issue. In some cases, people may not have access to reliable and affordable electricity, leading them to resort to illegal methods to obtain power. In other cases, electricity theft is a result of corruption, with some individuals or businesses taking advantage of weak enforcement mechanisms to illegally tap into the power grid. Obviously, there are systemic issues that only growing the economy as a whole can fix. This of course implies a competent, non-corrupt government and uncorrupted law enforcement. All of this takes time to deliver and successful outcomes by no means certain.

Fortunately, there are some short-term solutions. For instance, some countries are implementing measures such as increasing penalties for offenders, improving metering technology, and investing in renewable energy sources that are more difficult to steal. However, these efforts often face significant challenges due to the complexity of the issue and the limited resources available for infrastructure development in many parts of the continent. There are several technological solutions to address electricity theft in Africa. Some of these solutions include: Smart metering technology; Prepaid electricity systems and Physical security measures.

Of these Smart Metering appears to be the most interesting from a technology point of view.

The business case for smart metering solutions is clear. Northeast Group a research house focused on Smart Cities and Smart Metering suggests that electricity theft and other so-called “non-technical losses” total $96 billion per year globally (Link). Back in 2011 the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) predicted that a fully developed smart grid could save anywhere between $1.3 to $2 trillion, in comparison to the deployment costs, which would be between $338 and $476 billion over 20 years (Link). These are large sums indeed, especially in light of the need to invest in renewables at pace.

Smart meters work by using advanced analytics or in some cases AI to accurately measure and monitor energy consumption. They can detect abnormal energy usage patterns, such as sudden spikes or drops, which may indicate electricity theft. This technology can also enable utilities to remotely monitor and control power usage, reducing the need for physical intervention and preventing tampering. The better solutions manage the whole process of analysing and identifying energy theft, alerting the local field force, record the resolution of the theft and report in detail for subsequent legal action if pursued.

However the goal should not be simply to persecute would-be customers that simply cannot afford energy costs. Until energy is affordable and plentiful in Africa people will find a way to access these resources illegally. The goal should be much bigger: To plough the restored revenue into developing sustainable electricity generation from renewable resources that can eventually drive down the costs of energy and allow those very people affordable access to energy.

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