Researchers at the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with key operators in the UK food transport industry, are embarking on a £1 million project to develop hydrogen-powered refrigerated vehicles.
This innovative project aims to address the challenges of decarbonizing the food cold chain, reduce energy consumption, and pave the way for a sustainable and green supply and delivery system for fresh and frozen products.
Goals and Technology
The project’s primary goal is to develop dual-use energy storage technology that utilizes hydrogen to power vehicles while simultaneously generating cooling for refrigeration. By harnessing the potential of hydrogen as both a fuel for fuel cells and a refrigerant, the researchers aim to create a system that can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the UK’s food cold chain.
The use of hydrogen-powered refrigerated vehicles presents several technical and structural challenges that need to be addressed. One of the key challenges is ensuring sufficient mileage and refueling time. The industry currently relies on diesel-powered vehicles capable of making 600-mile journeys before refueling. Initially, the researchers propose a mileage of 300 miles for hydrogen-fueled vehicles, with the aim of reaching 600 miles in the long term. Additionally, the refueling time for hydrogen vehicles needs to match the efficiency of refueling diesel tanks, which typically takes under 10 minutes.
Another significant challenge is storage capability. Lorry trailers often need to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours, requiring continuous refrigeration even when detached from their tractor units. The design of the hydrogen-powered refrigerated vehicles must incorporate a system that enables ongoing refrigeration, potentially utilizing excess cooling produced during operation.
The successful implementation of this technology has the potential to revolutionize the UK food cold chain and contribute to the country’s sustainable energy future. The food industry heavily relies on refrigeration, which accounts for a significant portion of its electricity usage and CO2 emissions. By reducing dependency on imported energy and introducing hydrogen fuel cells for refrigerated vehicles, the project aims to enhance operating efficiency and decrease commercial costs. This could make the UK more economically competitive while significantly reducing CO2 emissions in the food cold chain, which currently represents 18% of the country’s total energy use.
Challenges and Recommendations
The project has identified several challenges that need to be addressed for the successful implementation of hydrogen-powered refrigerated vehicles in the food cold chain. These include the limited hydrogen refueling infrastructure in the UK, the need for collaboration within the industry to achieve sustainable supply chains, and the absence of a national strategy and support for hydrogen technology.
To overcome these challenges, the researchers recommend increasing the number of hydrogen refueling stations across the country to ensure sufficient coverage for delivery vehicles. They also stress the importance of industry-wide collaboration and horizontal integration to tackle the decarbonization challenges of the food cold chain effectively. Additionally, the development of a national strategy, government funding for research and development, and the implementation of supportive policies and regulations, as seen with electric vehicles, are crucial for advancing hydrogen technology in the industry.
The University of Nottingham’s project on hydrogen-powered refrigerated vehicles for the UK food cold chain presents an exciting opportunity to revolutionize the industry and make significant progress toward decarbonization. By addressing technical challenges, fostering collaboration, and advocating for government support, the project aims to develop a highly efficient and cost-effective dual-use hydrogen storage technology. This innovation has the potential to reduce energy consumption, lower CO2 emissions, and enhance the competitiveness of the UK’s food industry while driving sustainable practices.