The UK is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of automotive hydrogen development, with countries like China, Korea and Japan pushing ahead at a rapid rate, according to Charles Purkess, business development manager at ITM Power.

He was part of the ‘Fuelling the Future: On the Road to Zero’ session at The Forecourt Show in Birmingham this week. The packed event featured PRA chairman Brian Madderson; BP Chargemaster CEO Dave Newton; TSG UK’s business development director of EV Solutions Michelle Machesney; and petroleum manager of the London Fire Brigade, Clare Scawthorn.

Purkess said: “We are in a bit of a bubble in the UK, with the government just talking about plug-in electric vehicles (EVs). In China they’ve been rolling out EVs for some time, but they also have cities that are pushing ahead with fuel cell technology. There are companies looking at very large-scale developments, which means production costs are coming down. There are 10 companies in China already producing fuel cell electric vehicles - including vans - that are close to commercialisation. If we’re not careful we’re going to lose out.

“Hydrogen hasn’t had the profile it deserves - government has put it to one side. It is in many ways a much more viable and easier source of power. All the car companies, in developing the electric power train, can move to fuel cell. They’re just waiting for government to give them the nod. If we’re looking at how to achieve clean emission transport, and decarbonise transport and energy at the same time, this is a solution that is easily adaptable.

"When you look at the way mobility is moving, especially with regard to heavy vehicles - where you have a load compromise with batteries - the fuel cell system potentially removes that obstacle; and removes the need for that heavy investment in electric infrastructure that plug-in electric vehicles require."

Chairman of the session, TV presenter and motoring journalist Quentin Willson confirmed that during conversations with government ministers 15 years ago, electricity was seen as the stepping stone to hydrogen, but now that idea seems to have been ‘parked’. “It seems unfair that it’s been decided the road to the future is going to be completely electric, while hydrogen is seen as too expensive and too difficult,” he said. “It’s not the case at all. Every car manufacturer has a fuel cell in their back pocket.

“We are being held back by lack of infrastructure and poor range with electric cars. This is why consumers are not buying them in the predicted hundreds of thousands or millions. EVs are still a tiny drop in the ocean. Until we get to 300-350 mile range and a short charge of about 10 minutes, you won’t get mass electrification.”