Johnson Matthey announcement could lead to UK dominance in fuel cells

18 July 2022

The Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), together with Johnson Matthey and the UK government have today revealed a major new investment that will put the UK on the global map for the production of hydrogen fuel cell components. 

Supported by the Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF), Johnson Matthey will build a £80 million gigafactory on its existing site in Royston Hertfordshire, capable of manufacturing 3GW of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell components.

Ian Constance, Chief Executive of the APC, the organisation tasked by the automotive industry and government to accelerate development of green vehicle technology and responsible for managing ATF, said:

“This is incredibly significant and puts the UK in an enviable position in the global fuel cell supply chain. Our insight forecasts that the UK could dominate European fuel cell production and be a centre of excellence globally and today’s announcement is a huge step towards realising that ambition. We already have 15% of the fuel cell value chain radiating from UK businesses but this could be as much as 65% just by expanding on current strengths in electrochemistry and coatings or using our automotive capability to volume manufacture components. Johnson Matthey, a world-leader in hydrogen technology, have seen this opportunity and I’m delighted they have chosen the UK to grow this capability.”

Liam Condon, Chief Executive of Johnson Matthey said: “Decarbonising freight transportation is critical to help societies and industries meet their ambitious net zero emission targets – fuel cells will be a crucial part of the energy transition. For more than two decades, JM has been at the forefront of fuel cell innovation. The fuel cell market has now reached a pivotal moment with the increasing urgency to decarbonise transportation and today marks the next step of the journey to a low-carbon future in the UK. We’re delighted to be playing a key role in driving it forward.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “This investment, backed by Government, is a major vote of confidence from Johnson Matthey in the UK. Their new facility will not only add to our growing electric vehicle supply chain, but it will also help secure hundreds of highly skilled jobs.

“We are working hard to ensure the UK reaps the benefits of the green industrial revolution, and today’s announcement reaffirms UK’s reputation as one of the best locations in the world for high quality auto manufacturing.”

New insight taken from a forthcoming APC report supported by Austin Power Engineering indicates that the economies of scale delivered from this factory, once fully operational, will result in a significant step-change in cost reduction of fuel cell stacks, bringing the cost of a whole hydrogen fuel cell system closer to cost parity with battery packs.

Johnson Matthey Economies of scale graph

APC forecast the demand for fuel cells in the UK will be around 10GW by 2030 and 14GW by 2035 – the equivalent to 140,000 vehicles. Fuel cell electric vehicles offer a realistic solution for those sectors difficult to decarbonise – like logistics and public transport in the automotive sector, but also railways and shipping, making the movement of people and goods truly green. 

Johnson Matthey’s new facility will produce three gigawatts of PEM fuel cell components per year by the time it is up and running in 2024. These components are an incredibly important part of the fuel cell stack and the Johnson Matthey gigafactory provides opportunities for other key players in fuel cell manufacturing to maximise fuel cell production in the UK or enhance UK manufacturing for export. Today’s news offers real potential for exports globally. 

In April this year APC shared its latest report on UK capability at an event in Westminster, following on from the release of its Fuel Cell Value Chain maps in the last quarter of 2021. These detailed, for the first time, the end-to-end components needed for a fuel cell system signposting to the industry possible opportunities for diversification or commercial partnerships. Johnson Matthey’s gigafactory will create growth potential up and down the supply chain. 

While battery electric vehicles (BEV) are charged by plugging into to the electricity network, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) turn hydrogen into electricity. They are as quick to refuel as a standard combustion engine and have a range and power density to rival diesel engines making them perfect for heavy duty applications like HGVs or as a complimentary alternative to BEVs for example, SUVs or 4×4 vehicles, or in locations where charging infrastructure isn’t available. 

Constance added: “There was a time when the UK led battery cells research but we failed to capitalise on that from a manufacturing perspective. We are catching up with ground-breaking research and gigafactory development – AESC Envision and Britishvolt announcing new plants in the past year – and we still expect batteries to dominate the passenger car sector in the next decade or so.

“But heavy-duty applications – public transport, marine, rail and air – will need a different solution. Hydrogen will play a part, the UK could have a key role – and that means jobs and economic growth.”

The APC are already supporting projects looking specifically at the development of fuel cell EVs including Jaguar Land Rover’s ZEUS project for a FCEV Defender and Wrightbus’s single and double deck buses. 

And earlier this year the government announced support for hydrogen production through the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund which will help enable the infrastructure needed to generate green hydrogen in the UK. Green hydrogen is produced from electrolysis of water (using renewable electricity to separate the hydrogen and oxygen molecules). The only by-product of a fuel cell reaction, is water, meaning it is an incredible clean way to power vehicles. 

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