Green Hydrogen: a case for Malta’s Public Transport

Last Updated on Friday, 28 May, 2021 at 1:51 pm by Andre Camilleri

Gayle Kimberley is Director at Ewropa Consultancy and founder of Green Deal Malta

We need to achieve carbon neutrality across all EU Member States by 2050. In 2019, of all of Malta’s energy use, only a measly 8.49% was renewable. We have a very long way to go. Hydrogen, however, has the potential to get us there. The EU Commission agrees and has announced unprecedented levels of investment in green hydrogen in the immediate future.

Transport is the biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Malta. In the words of Profs. Maria Attard writing on Green Deal Malta: “Malta has missed its 2020 targets and is now set to potentially miss its 2030 targets, primarily because of the relentless growth in transport emissions. Under the European Green Deal, clean transport is a call for an increase in efforts to reduce the transport system’s reliance on polluting non-renewable fuels.”

Green hydrogen is the solution to providing sustainable fuel for our public transport – a solution that could also be scaled out to the shipping sector. Hydrogen is a highly efficient, low polluting fuel that can be used for transportation, heating, and power generation in places where it is di¬fficult to use electricity. In combination with fuel cells, hydrogen can improve energy efficiency in transport and contribute strongly to mitigating climate change. And while there may be challenges to roll out green hydrogen, particularly with respect to its storage, it is still a challenge worth taking on.

Hydrogen is, in fact, already being used to fuel public transport, especially buses and large trucks in Europe and beyond. The EU commission has publicly supported the use of clean hydrogen several times and has allocated billions in funding for hydrogen projects over the next decade.

Malta too backs hydrogen. Our ‘Electromobility’ policy is testament to this, a policy that – contrary to popular misconception – does not only mean using a Battery Electric Vehicle, but it also includes anything that uses an electric motor and a battery or fuel cell, such as Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology.

The view of Transport Malta is that Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology could power larger trucks and buses.  The Malta National Electromobility Action Plan (MNEAP) states that the Government of Malta has pledged to follow the development of Fuel Cell Technology in the maritime sector with projects similar to the Ross Barlow canal barge, a UK endeavour that built a hybrid hydrogen narrowboat, should technology continue to develop in this direction.

Unlike National Development Plans of other countries, where electromobility is limited to road transport, Malta’s MNEAP will cover as many modes as possible, including maritime crafts that can be used in coastal waters, passenger cars, motorbikes, vans, trucks, minibuses, buses and other vehicles that are propelled by electricity.

But to begin with we should test the use of green hydrogen in our public transport system. Public transport systems are especially suited to green hydrogen fuelling, particularly in hilly places like Malta. And it’s not without precedent: more than 400 hydrogen buses are operating today in the United States, Europe and China. Long range and quick refueling times at the depot are among the main advantages of hydrogen fuel cell buses when compared to battery electric vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel cells are expected to be the solution to achieving zero-emission heavy-duty transportation systems, including bus, rail, and transport trucks. To date, hydrogen is commercially available and can be produced from renewable energy. It can also be made from waste. Plus, hydrogen infrastructure is scalable and becoming more and more affordable as the number of vehicles per depot increases to enable the transition to 100% zero emission transit bus fleets.

Hydrogen fuel cells are also proven in real-word use with vehicles powered by hydrogen having travelled millions of kilometres, providing reliable passenger service for years.

I think it is now time to act. The mindset is changing; the industry is ready, the funding is available. Legislators need to do their job and set the ball rolling.

Firstly, Malta needs to overhaul our public transport system by backing a green hydrogen project with the end goal of making our public transport run on green hydrogen.

Secondly, Malta needs to scale this out to the maritime sector by implementing real incentives and regulation, which will stimulate the uptake by 2035 of green hydrogen as an alternative fuel for the shipping industry.

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