Hydrogen fuel cell power is not currently a realistic zero-emissions alternative to battery EVs for van fleets, according to the Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP).

The industry body has warned that fleets waiting to see if this situation changes are probably set for disappointment.

AFP chair Paul Hollick said the organisation was aware of a ‘sizeable minority’ of fleet managers, mainly with extensive LCV operations, who were waiting to see if hydrogen would become viable in the short to medium term.

He said: “We’ve discussed this topic at some length at every level of the AFP and our conclusions are clear. Electric is effectively the only option when it comes to the future of zero emissions vans in the UK for at least the next decade. Hydrogen is simply not happening in any meaningful way and there is no real sign of that situation changing.

“The facts are that the hydrogen fuelling infrastructure barely exists, availability of vehicles is limited in the extreme and those that are available are very expensive. Apart from the introduction of one hydrogen van over the next year, we are seeing only minimal levels of investment in the fuel and certainly not on anything like the scale that would be required for widespread, rapid adoption.

“Elsewhere, such as in Germany, there is significant state support for the expansion of hydrogen but government commitment here is low. It is clear that as far as the vast majority of road transport is concerned, our politicians see electric as the future. Fleets waiting for hydrogen to emerge as a realistic alternative are almost certainty set for disappointment.”

Hollick said that operators hoping for a hydrogen solution to occur were quite often those who also had significant reservations about the viability of electric for their van operations.

He explained: “It is becoming clear to a significant proportion of operators that electric vans will not always be able to replace existing petrol or diesel models on a like-for-like basis because of compromises over range, charging times and payload. That means that they’ll often have to change their operational model and cause a degree of disruption to their business.

“Hydrogen appears to provide a solution to this situation because of the promise of ease of refuelling. However, there are only around than a dozen hydrogen filling stations in the whole country and literally no programme for widespread expansion. Rapid filling-up of a vehicle is meaningless when the nearest pump is 100 miles or more away.

“There are higher level problems, too. Generating green hydrogen on a large scale would be required and the infrastructure for that is also sorely lacking. In other European countries, there is investment happening and government support in place that could help to overcome some of these issues – but not in the UK at this point in time.”

Hollick added that for van fleet operators, accepting their fleet would become electrified over the next decade was an important step when it came to identifying solutions that would work for them.

He said: “It is no exaggeration to say that the number one task currently facing light commercial vehicle fleets is to resolve the infrastructure and operational issues that will maximise electric van effectiveness as the transition away from ICE happens over the next few years.

“There are no easy answers to some of the questions created by this situation but fleet managers and organisations such as the AFP are working to find new ways of maximising the effectiveness of EVs – and making substantial progress almost month-by-month.”