UK car maker bets on green revolution

UK car maker bets on green revolution
Hugo Spowers, chief engineer and founder of Riversimple, with one of his company’s hydrogen-powered Rasa cars at his factory in Wales in the UK. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2020

UK car maker bets on green revolution

UK car maker bets on green revolution
  • South Korea’s Hyundai claims to be the current world leader in hydrogen vehicles, selling 5,000 units of its Nexo model in 2019

ABERGAVENNY: Hydrogen-powered car manufacturer Riversimple is hoping to steal a march on competitors ahead of Britain’s promised “green revolution” that would see petrol-powered cars banned within 10 years.

While conventional battery-powered electric cars may be a few miles ahead in the zero-emission vehicle race, the company is betting that nascent hydrogen technology will fuel the cars of the future.

South Korea’s Hyundai claims to be the current world leader, selling 5,000 units of its Nexo model in 2019, followed by the Toyota Mirai.

Their sales are dwarfed by those of battery powered cars, of which there now around five million on the world’s roads.

Riversimple is only an ambitious upstart compared with the Asian automotive giants, but is currently the only British manufacturer in the sector with its flagship model, the Rasa.

Founder Hugo Spowers is keen to take on the industry’s big boys with his self-designed model, whose name derives from the Latin expression “tabula rasa,” which translates as “clean slate.”

Starting from scratch will give him an advantage, he hopes, over manufacturing giants that are focussed on adapting petrol-driven models to run on hydrogen.

He also believes hydrogen has a clear advantage over electric batteries because it offers a much greater range.

“A short-range car can be brilliant running on batteries, and we need them and there’s a role for them,” he said.

“But if you want the sort of range to which we’ve become accustomed, of 300 miles (482 kilometers) or more, hydrogen is head and shoulders ahead in terms of the overall efficiency,” he added.

Rasa will begin advanced testing over the next few months, with paying customers including Monmouthshire District Council in south Wales, which has approved a hydrogen refueling station in the town of Abergavenny.

It is the only such site in the region, but recharging takes only a few minutes, compared with several hours for an electric battery. 

The cars turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water, offering the advantages of electric cars — sharp acceleration, torque and quiet operation — with no pollutants emitted.

Their environmental footprint is still a problem however, with the hydrogen mainly sourced from CO2-emitting natural gas.

As electricity is increasingly made from renewable sources, there is hope this could be used to create hydrogen from water via electrolysis.

Another problem is the vehicle’s cost.

Riversimple is trying to resolve that via a hire-purchase scheme that includes maintenance and fuel costs.

The vehicle would still belong to Riversimple, giving it a stake in sustainability.

“You pay for it monthly by direct debit and everything’s all under one umbrella, which I think is fantastic,” Jane Pratt, a member of Monmouthshire County Council, told AFP.

“This is a much more sustainable method of having a car,” she added.

Spowers said he expected the total outlay to be competitive with that of a Volkswagen Golf.

“Even though the car costs us more to build, because of these long revenue streams, and because our operating costs will be lower,” the cost should even out, said Spowers, who plans to launch the Rasa in three years.

The company looks set to benefit from the British government’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and specifically the goal announced a few days ago of a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030.

British chemical giant Ineos and market leader Hyundai this week announced a partnership to develop hydrogen-fueled vehicles and capitalize on the expected boom.

Hyundai suggested it could supply its hydrogen fuel cell technology to equip the Ineos all-terrain model Grenadier.


WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Despite long-term challenges, oil prices remain in healthy range

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Despite long-term challenges, oil prices remain in healthy range
Updated 29 min 21 sec ago

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Despite long-term challenges, oil prices remain in healthy range

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Despite long-term challenges, oil prices remain in healthy range

Oil prices have been stable since early January, with Brent crude price hovering around $55. Brent crude closed the week slightly higher at $55.41 per barrel,
while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) closed slightly lower at $52.27 per barrel.

Oil price movement since early January in a narrow range above $50 is healthy, despite pessimism over an increase in oil demand, while expectations of US President Joe Biden taking steps to revive energy demand growth are
still doubtful. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a hike in US refining utilization to its highest since March 2020, at 82.5 percent. The EIA reported a surprise weekly surge in US commercial crude stocks by 4.4
million barrels. Oil prices remained steady despite the bearish messages sent from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which believes it will take more time for oil demand to recover fully as renewed lockdowns in several countries weighed on oil demand recovery.

The IEA’s January Oil Market Report came as the most pessimistic monthly report among other market bulletins from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and EIA. It forecast oil demand will bounce back to 96.6 million bpd this year, an increase of 5.5 million bpd over 2020 levels.

Though the IEA has lowered its forecast for global oil demand in 2021 due to lockdowns and vaccination challenges, it still expects a sharp rebound in oil consumption in the second half of 2021,
and the continuation of global inventory depletion.

The IEA reported global oil stocks fell by 2.58 million bpd in the fourth quarter of 2020 after preliminary data showed hefty drawdowns toward the end of the year. The IEA reported OECD industry stocks fell for a fourth consecutive month at 166.7
million barrels above the last five-year average. It forecast that global refinery throughput is expected to rebound by 4.5 million bpd in 2021, after a 7.3 million bpd drop in 2020.

The IEA monthly report has led to some short term concern about weakness in the physical crude spot market, and the IEA has acknowledged OPEC’s firm role in stabilizing the market.

Controversially, the IEA believes that a big chunk of shale oil production is profitable at current prices, and hence insinuated that shale oil might threaten OPEC market share.

It also believes that US shale oil producers have quickly responded to oil price gains, winning market share over OPEC producers. However, even if US shale oil drillers added more oil rigs for almost three months in a row, the number of operating rigs is still less than half that of a year ago, at 289 rigs.

The latest figures from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission show that crude futures “long positions” on the New York Mercantile Exchange are at 668,078 contracts, down by 18,414 contracts from the previous week (at 1,000 barrels for each contract).