Reflections from Ian Constance: we are at the forefront of change

Reflections from Ian Constance – Chief Executive Officer, APC UK

Quite often I reflect on the multiplicity of our role at the APC and how we straddle a spectrum of solutions for achieving our net-zero ambitions. Just this last week, I have had the privilege of speaking at two events that show this diversity at its very best: the first, an event on Hydrogen in Automotive at the House of Commons and the second, the SMMT Electrified 2022 conference.

On both of these occasions I was once again struck by the passion our industry has to revolutionise the automotive world and how, by adopting multiple solutions to a global problem, we are at the forefront of change.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the backdrop of uncertainty and tragedy that the world is currently experiencing. No one can ignore the hideous nature of the war in Ukraine; and whilst the humanitarian crisis is first in all our thoughts, we once again face the realities of world events impacting our global automotive industry. Our thoughts are with all of you who have family or colleagues directly affected.

Seizing the opportunity in hydrogen

On Tuesday (22 March), we held our first briefing event of the year at the House of Commons, hosted by Matt Western MP, Chair of the APPG for Electric Vehicles, where we were joined by speakers from Cummins, Luxfer and Johnson Matthey. The topic of discussion was the crucial role that hydrogen-powered vehicles will play in the decarbonisation of transport. 

Matt Western MP with Ian Constance at APC’s hydrogen in automotive Westminster reception

APC insight shows that the UK could contribute up to 65% of the fuel cell system and hydrogen tank value chain, and the good news is we are already on this journey. The UK’s existing capabilities are charted in APC’s fuel cell and hydrogen tank value chain maps, which highlight that we are ahead on some critical technologies, like the platinum-based catalyst coated membranes (CCMs) that form the core of a fuel cell, and the high-pressure, high-precision tanks required for safe on-board storage.

The narrative so often focuses on electrification so it was great to get in a room with 70 people and deliver a clear message that hydrogen is very much part of the net-zero journey, that we are already investing in it, and that with the right support and collaboration across the parties we can create a critical mass for the UK to build its position in hydrogen propulsion.

Location, location, location

Just 24 hours later, I participated in a panel discussion at SMMT Electrified, bringing together the whole industry on this one vital topic. It coincided with Grant Shapps’ Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy announcement highlighting our strongly-held belief that better infrastructure is vital to achieving our net zero ambitions – both for electric vehicles and hydrogen propulsion. This announcement also advised us to expect 300,000 new charging points by 2030.

Isobel Sheldon OBE – Britishvolt; Asher Bennett – Tevva Electric Trucks; Ian Constance – APC; Dennis Hayter – Intelligent Energy; Katie Derham – BBC

It’s hard to say whether this will be sufficient, but I will say that the location of these is crucial. They need to address the challenges of charging for those living in multi-occupancy buildings, or driving in remote parts of the country where distances between urban centres are vast. They need to be accessible to all, nationwide. When even large towns like Stockport and Slough still have fewer than one electric charging point per EV, it’s fair to assume this will be a major challenge to mass EV adoption. Fortunately, as evidenced by our activity within hydrogen, there is an ethos of multiplicity within the UK innovation ecosystem that means we’re never too far from the answer. With enough momentum, that will become clear to investors, too.

So, as the first quarter of 2022 draws to a close, the buzz and conversation flow at both of these events once again sought to remind me that the UK is a hive of net-zero brilliance and as long as we continue to talk, collaborate and invest, I remain optimistic about our future.