Teesside set to become UK’s first hydrogen transport hub

Teesside set to become UK's first hydrogen transport hub, and trials of hydroFLEX train begin in the midlands. (Photo by University of Birmingham).

Teesside is set to become the UK’s first ever hydrogen transport hub, under plans announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps today. (30/9/20).

Bringing together representatives from academia, industry and government to drive forward the UK’s plans to embrace the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel could, say ministers, create hundreds of jobs while seeing the region become a global leader in the green hydrogen sector.

The DfT have commissioned a masterplan to understand the feasibility of the hub and how it can accelerate the UK’s ambitions in hydrogen. The masterplan, expected to be published in January, will pave the way for exploring how green hydrogen could power buses, lorries, rail, maritime and aviation transport across the UK.

The aim would then be for the region to become a global leader in industrial research on the subject of hydrogen as a fuel, as well as research and development hub for hydrogen transport more generally, attracting hundreds of jobs and boosting the local economy in the process.

The news was announced on the same day a hydrogen-powered train enjoyed a trial run on the UK mainline for the first time, in what transport secretary Grant Shapps described as “a big step forward towards the UK’s net-zero targets” while visiting the start of trials in Warwickshire.

Today’s trials of the train, known as HydroFLEX, which have been supported with a £750,000 grant from the Department for Transport (DfT), follow almost two years’ development work and more than £1m of investment by both Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham.

Unlike diesel trains, hydrogen-powered trains do not emit harmful gases, instead using hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, water and heat. The ground-breaking technology behind the trains will also be available by 2023 to retrofit current in-service trains to hydrogen, helping decarbonise the rail network and make rail journeys greener and more efficient.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “I’m delighted that, through our plans to build back better, we’re embracing the power of hydrogen and the more sustainable, greener forms of transport it will bring.” 

Mary Grant, CEO of Porterbrook, said: “Today’s mainline testing of HydroFLEX achieves another important milestone on this journey. I’m also delighted to be able to announce our intention to start producing HydroFLEX trains, creating the world’s first electric and hydrogen-powered bi-mode rolling stock, as well as generating significant opportunities for the UK supply chain.”

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said: “Hydrogen is playing a massive part in our future plans. We already produce more than 50% of the UK’s hydrogen, so by becoming the home of the National Hydrogen Transport Centre, we can properly utilise this and fully unleash our area’s potential. Teesside has led the world in steel manufacturing and engineering for generations. Now we can become a trail blazer in the industries of the future.” 

Teesside University’s pro vice-chancellor (research and innovation) Professor Simon Hodgson said: “Finding new ways to produce clean energy is integral to ensuring a sustainable future for the planet and a key focus of our university’s research. This announcement puts Middlesbrough and the Tees Valley at the forefront of the UK’s hydrogen economy and we are delighted to be able to bring our research and expertise to bear in helping provide an innovative solution to the climate emergency.”

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