Johnson Matthey unveils plan for £80m fuel cell ‘gigafactory’, as government champions hydrogen plans

Johnson Mattthey has announced plans to build an £80m ‘gigafactory’ at its site in Hertfordshire, aimed at scaling up the manufacture of hydrogen fuel cell components in order to meet the growing demand for the zero carbon technology.

The FTSE 250 chemicals and technology giant said the new facility would support its ambition to become “the market leader in performance components for fuel cells and electrolysers”, with the firm targeting more than £200m of revenue from hydrogen technologies by the end of 2024/ 25.

The gigfactory, slated for the company’s existing site in Royston, will initially be capable of manufacturing 3GW of proton exchange fuel cell components each year for hydrogen vehicles, Johnson Matthey said.

It added that the facility, which is being supported in part through the government’s Automotive Transformation Fund, also holds the potential to triple its capacity in future in order to boost production of both fuel cell and green hydrogen electrolyser components. The site is expected to come online in the first half of 2024.

The firm pointed to forecasts from the UK’s Advanced Propulsion Center (APC) that the UK could need up to 14GW of fuel cell stack production and 400,000 high pressure carbon fiber tanks annually to meet local vehicle production demands by 2035.

Liam Condon, Johnson Mattthey’s chief executive, said fuel cell technologies would play a crucial role in the energy transition, particularly in helping to decarbonise freight and logistics transport.

“For more than two decades, Johnson Matthey has been at the forefront of fuel cell innovation,” he said. “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.”

The news came as the government confirmed the appointment of Johnson Matthey’s chief executive for catalyst technologies, Jane Toogood, as the UK’s first ‘Hydrogen Champion’, alongside the publication of a raft of policy plans designed to unlock up to £9bn of investment in the burgeoning domestic hydrogen sector.

BEIS said the Hydrogen Champion would play a “vital” role in helping to connect the government with the wider hydrogen industry.

Toogood is expected to help support the government’s ambitions for the UK to deliver up to 10GW of hydrogen production capacity by 2030, as well as its plans to run annual allocation rounds for contracts for electrolytic or green hydrogen producers and design new business models for hydrogen transport and storage infrastructure.

“Hydrogen deployment as a clean energy source is one of the key solutions to help the UK reach its net zero targets and I strongly believe there is an opportunity to this, working collaboratively across industry and government to land projects and infrastructure on a timeline that serves stakeholder and customers’ needs,” Toogood said.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is also expected to announce a fresh round of funding for the sector at the Hydrogen Investment Summit later today, as the government looks to boost investor confidence in the emerging sector and deliver on its ambition to have 1GW of electrolytic hydrogen in operation or construction by the end of 2025.

Meeting that ambition, according to BEIS, would see the UK produce enough hydrogen to fuel up to 45,000 buses a year, while helping support the transition away from “costly” fossil fuels.

It could also help put the UK on track to become a “world-leading hydrogen economy”, capable of attracting billions of pounds in inward investment and supporting 12,000 jobs across the country, BEIS said.

As an example, Kwarteng hailed Johnson Mattthey’s £80m investment plan this week as a “major vote of confidence” in the UK, which would add to the country’s growing electric vehicle supply chain, while also helping secure “hundreds of highly skilled jobs”.

“The UK’s hydrogen sector is open for business,” Kwarteng said. “With the right investment, we can unlock the enormous potential of hydrogen by reindustrialising our economy and ending our dependency on expensive fossil fuels.

“The new funding represents an important step forward in realizing this potential, and I look forward to working with Jane Toogood as our new Hydrogen Champion, ensuring industry and government are aligned to accelerate hydrogen production as a clean, home grown energy source – boosting our energy security and creating jobs.”

Among the documents published by the government today are a new Sector Development Action Plan and an update on progress towards delivering last year’s Hydrogen Strategy.

Moreover, BEIS has published an “R&D innovation brochure” to provide guidance to industry on how funding for hydrogen research projects can be accessed, as well as guidance to help interested parties access the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund.

The government’s said that taken together the new plans and guidance would help further strengthen the policy and regulatory landscape for the domestic hydrogen sector, while building up momentum in the market and providing certainty for investors and industry alike.

Clare Jackson, chief executive of industry association Hydrogen UK, described today’s wave of announcements as a “welcome statement of intent from the government”.

“Hydrogen UK looks forward to working closely with policy officials to review progress against the landmark Hydrogen Strategy of 2021, and to set ambitious goals for the future as we work together to build a British hydrogen economy, which is crucial if we are to reach our much-needed net-zero goals.”

RenewableUK’s policy for emerging technologies, Laurie Heyworth, described the flurry of hydrogen policy documents today as a “landmark announcement on the way in which British companies will be able to access funding for green hydrogen projects” that could help to “kickstart the private investment.” needed to build up a whole new industry in the years ahead”.

“The Hydrogen Business Model operates in a similar way to Contracts for Difference which have turbo-charged the growth of wind energy in the UK and enabled rapid and massive cost reductions,” she explained. “Green hydrogen will add vital flexibility to our future energy system as it can be used in a wide range of ways to replace expensive gas.”

She added: “We’re looking forward to working closely with the government’s new Hydrogen Champion, Jane Toogood, on measures to speed up the roll-out of green hydrogen as a clean super-fuel which will help us to decarbonise sectors such as transport and energy-intensive industries where progress has been too slow so far.”

In related industry news, First Hydrogen, a company that is developing hydrogen-powered light commercial vehicles (LCV), has this morning announced a partnership with hydrogen fleet consortium the UK Aggregated Hydrogen Freight Consortium (AHFC).

The AHFC is led by Element Energy and brings together hydrogen industry and mobility companies, including Air Products, Anglo American, Hyundai, Toyota and BOC, committed to the commercial roll out of fuel cell vans and trucks and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

“We are excited to work with Element Energy and to bring our technology directly to fleet companies, demonstrating the benefits of fuel cell powered light commercial vehicles,” said First Hydrogen CEO Steve Gill. “It is a great opportunity for us to generate customer interest in our vehicles and gain first-hand customer and driver feedback to contribute to our bespoke vehicle development programme.”

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