AZoCleantech speaks to Jim Gregory, European Business Development Manager at Luxfer Gas Cylinders, about the company's inspiring and successful role in developing innovative hydrogen solutions for various industries. Featuring as a finalist in the World Hydrogen Awards, Luxfer Gas Cyclinders is proving itself as key player in the hydrogen industry, highlighting its importance in accelerating a more sustainable future.
Can you tell us about Luxfer and its role in harnessing hydrogen fuel for transport?
While hydrogen as an alternative fuel source is now gathering pace, interest and investment, the space is not new for Luxfer – the leading international manufacturer of high-pressure composite and aluminum cylinders has been pioneering gas storage solutions for 80 years.
The company has sites worldwide, with more than 70 million Luxfer cylinders in service globally and approximately one million produced in the company’s European base in Nottingham, UK. These cylinders are destined for various applications, from alternative fuel, aerospace and inflation to SCBA equipment for firefighters, SCUBA, medical, specialty gas and industrial use, CO2, and beverages.
Jim Gregory of Luxfer. Image Credit: Luxfer
Luxfer’s work designing, manufacturing, and installing hydrogen storage systems for cleaner and greener transport solutions has spanned over two decades – significantly pre-dating government pledges to cut emissions and reach net zero by 2050 in the UK.
What is hydrogen and how can it be used to reduce carbon emissions worldwide?
Hydrogen makes up 75 percent of the universe’s mass, is the main chemical element in stars, and can be found in water. Although you cannot see it or smell it, hydrogen is rapidly becoming a crucial part of a greener transport system for the future.
In transport, which is among the most highly polluting sectors, hydrogen provides a zero-emission solution comparable to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), combined with a vehicle range and convenience similar to diesel or petrol.
Where hydrogen comes into its own is the ratio of available power to weight, alongside quicker refueling times. This makes it particularly well adapted to larger, intensive use vehicles such as buses, trucks, 4x4s, and trains, where the power required would result in unmanageably large batteries.
The recharging time would also keep the vehicles off the road for too long – most passenger cars are used for one hour per day, yet a bus is constantly running for more than 16 hours per day.
False starts have punctuated the role of hydrogen – and despite the enormous leaps in commitment as an alternative fuel vital to decarbonizing transport, hurdles to adopting the technology remain.
The current challenge curtailing the potential of hydrogen is how to scale up an entire industry incrementally across many unconnected markets, such as marine, rail, and road. Another issue is how to provide the necessary infrastructure to support those operators who are making strides into hydrogen mobility.
What is the significance of the World Hydrogen Awards and how did Luxfer gain its spot as a finalist?
The World Hydrogen Awards celebrate organizations truly innovating in hydrogen, and Luxfer is proud to be among a handful of pioneers. The awards recognized how Luxfer’s engineering teams aim to lead and improve performance, push the boundaries for technological capabilities and increase value for customers.
As part of the shortlisting, Luxfer shared details of a succession of world-first projects it has delivered over the past 12 to 18 months. These include:
- World-first double-decker hydrogen buses, launched in Aberdeen in 2021, are powered by Luxfer-designed systems and recently surpassed a landmark one million miles in service. The same design features on the streets of London and is destined for other UK cities. A total of 70 hydrogen buses have been deployed with Luxfer systems in the UK.
- In March 2022, the Mobility & Innovation H2Bus was launched in Slovakia – it is the most lightweight, fuel-efficient, and quickest-to-refuel bus in the world. It is currently touring Europe to prove the benefits of hydrogen-powered passenger transport.
- 70 hydrogen Hyundai HGVs are in operation for supermarket deliveries across Switzerland, featuring Luxfer alternative fuel expertise.
- HydroFLEX is the culmination of the best in UK engineering, fitted by Luxfer with a 36-cylinder system, with each cylinder 3.2 meters long and holding 7.8 kg of hydrogen. It is the first passenger-carrying train of its kind in the UK. With all diesel trains being decommissioned in the UK by 2040, retrofits such as HydroFLEX provide fast service and are a cheaper alternative to purchasing new purpose-built trains.
How is Luxfer driving the hydrogen industry forward with its innovative projects?
Initial demand for alternative fuel systems was primarily for public transport, road freight, and some cars. From 2020, the range of applications expanded significantly, with Luxfer’s engineering and design experts called upon for projects relating to other transport modes, including boats, off-highway vehicles, forklift trucks, and aerospace.
A staple for how Luxfer delivers its best work is in collaboration with partners from large multinational corporations, such as Hyundai, to small, disruptive SMEs. The partners are agile and strive to bring hydrogen solutions to market very quickly through retrofitting existing vehicles to work on hydrogen.
Luxfer offers bespoke systems for different types of hydrogen solutions. The most common is via an adapted hydrogen combustion engine, which is more cost-effective and applies old technology to work with new fuel.
Luxfer also collaborates with several entrepreneurial companies bringing fuel cell technology to market. Both require high-performance, high-pressure gas containment that is durable and has an unrivaled safety record.
One of the most recent projects Luxfer partnered to deliver is the Mobility & Innovation hydrogen-electric passenger bus. Launched early in 2022 in Slovakia, it marked an important milestone in delivering zero-emissions solutions for urban transit across Europe, as the most fuel-efficient and quickest to refuel vehicle of its kind in the world.
The alternative fuel system on the eight-meter, 21-passenger H2Bus was designed and supplied by Luxfer. Requiring just 10.5 kg of hydrogen to achieve more than 400 km of range, the H2Bus contains a hydrogen fuel cell system and electric motor.
The weight of all components was minimized to maintain optimum fuel efficiency, and it was designed to deliver the fastest refueling of any equivalent bus on the market.
Why is it important to look for ways to produce and use hydrogen as an alternative, greener fuel that could help reduce climate change?
Sustainability is hugely important to Luxfer. We have invested significantly in our manufacturing facilities and engineering expertise to support the hydrogen revolution.
It is an exciting time to be in this industry because the technology is available and we are helping companies harness it effectively and cost-efficiently.
Making transport less polluting will be critical to meeting emissions targets. Luxfer has witnessed a real step change in the past 12 months, with forward-thinking companies waking up to the solid business case for hydrogen.
What do you believe Luxfer could achieve in the future if it continues to grow its hydrogen projects?
Luxfer has partnered with a company that offers hydrogen drones for use in the military and industrial sectors.
Luxfer sees demand rising exponentially across Europe and within all transport sectors, from boats, trains, planes, refuse trucks, mechanical handling, vans, refrigerated vans, light trucks, and cars.
The pendulum has swung from lots of prototyping work five years ago to increased investment, orders, and understanding of the hydrogen promise. This translated into a staggering twenty-fold increase in demand for our services across the past two years.
For Luxfer, this signals a pathway towards expanding our alternative fuel capabilities and global team.
How might hydrogen be used in the next few decades?
Fundamental to the hydrogen economy is building a gas distribution and supply network that can cope with increasing demand without being overwhelmed.
Hydrogen pipelines will not be a reality for most before the end of the decade, and are unlikely to reach every hydrogen user.
Within the next ten years, there is an ambition to turn the UK into a massive green hydrogen-producing hub. To turn this into a reality, energy companies need to carry as much hydrogen as possible across roads, rail, and water. It is about getting the hydrogen from the production site to the point of use safely and cost-effectively. This is where bulk gas transportation will be critical – it is the only broadly viable solution.
Last year, Luxfer announced a ground-breaking partnership with Octopus Hydrogen. This multi-million-pound deal will see Luxfer design and supply bulk gas transport modules that will carry green hydrogen across the UK, beginning later this year.
In development right now, the Multiple Element Gas Containers (MEGC) can hold around 1.1 tons of hydrogen – the equivalent of filling up and running 16 buses over a total of 5,800 miles.
On a smaller scale, Luxfer is also designing 20-foot containers for when less hydrogen is required and working with partners on marine solutions. These will transport vast quantities of hydrogen into densely populated areas via waterways, which is important because it will not exacerbate congestion and pollution problems in major cities.
What challenges has your team faced and how have these been overcome?
As with many businesses, COVID-19 has presented a challenge. For example, on the H2 bus for the Mobility & Innovation project, Luxfer was appointed to design and build fuel storage, refueling, and safety controls. The team worked in parallel with other specialists across Europe and North America, providing drive systems, fuel cells, batteries, and controls for the vehicle.
Partners based across the globe each fed into the strategy and development but without any face-to-face planning due to travel restrictions. Preparation, updates, testing, and processes were all managed entirely through virtual methods – such as email, video conferencing, and calls.
Due to these constraints, the technology was built in a ‘ready to assemble kit’ for the first time to enable quick and safe assembly under remote instruction. With components and materials shortages globally and supply chain challenges, adaptions to designs and resources were continuous.
Thanks to working alongside a dynamic team, the project was delivered in just nine months, around three times quicker than standard clean bus builds.
What are the next steps for Luxfer?
The thrill of the work Luxfer does is collaborating with like-minded companies who are thinking differently about the capability of hydrogen technology.
Luxfer helps its partners thanks to the cross-fertilization of ideas. A rail company may never collaborate with a shipbuilder, but our engineers have delivered hydrogen conversion projects for both and those connections and cross-pollination can spark interesting and practical concepts
Luxfer will continue to innovate in hydrogen solutions. It will expand work with partners of all sizes within different sectors and continue to develop its cylinder technology to meet the demands of this burgeoning sector.
Where can readers find more information?
For further information on Luxfer’s alternative fuel expertise, visit: https://www.luxfercylinders.com/products/alternative-fuel/
About Jim Gregory
Jim Gregory is European Business Development Manager at Luxfer Gas Cylinders. After leaving University, a desire to work in international business led Jim to a graduate trainee program at a multinational engineering firm, and ultimately a career in international business development - defining the strategies, building the teams and leading them to drive growth.
Strengths include Jim’s ability to understand, analyze and convey complex ideas at any level. This is combined with an interest in developing new markets and a talent for building effective relationships across different cultures.
Jim is a hydrogen fuel storage systems specialist and drives the company’s European interests, focusing on the road and rail sectors.
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