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Potential for hydrogen in future zero-emission transport, says government

The Government’s plans to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 will be “technology-neutral” but not “outcome-neutral” on the transition to zero-emission vehicles.

The consultation response says full hybrids and plug-in hybrids have a key role to play, both in reducing emissions and as a stepping-stone technology

That was the overriding message in the newly published response to the consultation on ending the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans, which also sets out that the planned consultation on hybrids will run later this year.

The document confirms the plans announced by the Prime Minister on 17 November 2020 that sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned by 2030 – and that sales of hybrid models with significant electric-only capabilities will be allowed until 2035, at which point only zero-emission vehicles will be allowed.

Speaking at the time, the Department for Transport had clarified this could mean both plug-in hybrids and conventional hybrids, and this will be defined through consultation. And in the consultation response published today (10 March 2021), the Department for Transport and Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) clarified the two-phase approach and said the definition of significant zero-emission capability will be consulted on later this year.

They added: “We recognise the importance of deploying a range of cleaner vehicle technologies from today up until the phase-out dates. In particular, full hybrids and plug-in hybrids have a key role to play, both in reducing emissions and as a stepping-stone technology to help consumers and businesses adapt to zero-emission driving.”

The document also stresses that hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) have a role to play in the plans for all new cars and vans to be fully zero emission at the tailpipe from 2035.

It outlines: “Government takes a technology-neutral approach on how this transition will be achieved. While it is true that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) dominate the current ZEV market, we recognise the potential of hydrogen as another solution for zero-emission transport, particularly for heavier road vehicles.”

The document also outlines various government plans to support developments in FCEVs.

It continues: “The fuel cell electric vehicle and hydrogen refuelling market is in its infancy and government has taken steps to support its growth in the UK. The transport decarbonisation plan will discuss the potential role for hydrogen in decarbonising the transport sector, including road transport. In addition, we have announced plans to publish a hydrogen strategy, which will set out a whole system view of developing the UK hydrogen economy, including how we will work with industry to create 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production for use across the economy by 2030.”

But the consultation response is unequivocal about not being ‘outcome neutral’.

“From 2035, zero must mean zero for greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions from new cars and vans. We do not take a view on what specific technologies will deliver this target, but we are clear on the outcome we are seeking. This will provide time for the entire car and van fleet to transition prior to 2050.”

And it rules out any idea that low-carbon fuels could be used as part of meeting the zero emissions from the tailpipe requirement, saying: “Promoting the use of such fuels beyond sustainable levels could increase rather than save carbon emissions. Low carbon fuels can still contribute to poor air quality via tailpipe emissions in towns and cities, in contrast to the improvement in air quality expected from wider ZEV uptake. Furthermore, given the relative scarcity of these fuels, their longer-term use should be prioritised for harder-to-decarbonise sectors, especially aviation and shipping.” But it does add that in the immediate future they will remain important in supporting emission reductions from existing cars and vans, as shown by the rollout of lower-carbon E10 fuel.

The consultation response also outlines that the Government will consider a very limited range of derogations to the phase-out dates for specialist vehicles, including military service and emergency vehicles, and for parts of the market which may need further time to transition, such as small volume manufacturers. These derogations will be consulted on in due course.

The Government has also committed to publishing a delivery plan this year setting out major milestones towards the phase-out dates and committed spending and regulatory measures.

The document also recognises the need for increased supply of ZEVs over the next decade to meet the 2035 target, and said there will be investment and new jobs in manufacturing, associated infrastructure and the supply chain.

To access the consultation response, click here.

For more of the latest industry news, click here.

Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.