Johnson Matthey to build hydrogen production factory

London-listed chemicals specialist  Johnson Matthey is to build an £80 million ($96 million) so-called “gigafactory” specialising in the manufacture of hydrogen fuel cell components.

Operations are planned to start in the first half of 2024.

In a statement, the company said the facility in Royston, England, would be able to produce 3 gigawatts of proton exchange membrane fuel cell components per year. 

The idea is that the components will be used by hydrogen vehicles, with the announcement referencing road freight. 

“Decarbonising freight transportation is critical to help societies and industries meet their ambitious net zero emission targets – fuel cells will be a crucial part of the energy transition,” Liam Condon, CEO of Johnson Matthey, said.

Johnson Matthey’s plans have received backing from the UK government via the Advanced Propulsion Centre’s Automotive Transformation Fund, a funding programme focused on large-scale industrialisation.

The concept behind fuel cell vehicles is that hydrogen from a tank mixes with oxygen, producing electricity. 

Separately this week, the Advanced Propulsion Centre said it was forecasting that UK demand for fuel cells would be roughly 10 GW by 2030, rising to 14 GW by the year 2035. This, it added, would be equivalent to 140,000 vehicles.

The APC said fuel cell vehicles were “as quick to refuel as a standard combustion engine and have a range and power density to rival diesel engines”. This made them “perfect for heavy duty applications” such as heavy goods vehicles, or HGVs.

JM is one of several firms working on technology related to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. At the end of June, Tevva, also based in the UK, launched a hydrogen-electric heavy goods vehicle.

Last month, Sweden’s Volvo Construction Equipment began to test the world’s first hydrogen powered articulated hauler.

Articulated haulers are large, heavy-duty dump trucks used to carry bulky loads over rough terrain and occasionally on public roads. They feature a swivel joint, so they are able to move in order to keep the cab stable.

Volvo’s HX04 articulated hauler, which is the result of a research project that started in 2018, is charged with 12 kg of hydrogen in around 7.5 minutes, which enables it to operate for around four hours.

Hydrogen charging infrastructure is still in development, but Shell has installed a hydrogen refuelling station at the Volvo CE test track in Braås, Sweden, where Volvo has manufactured articulated haulers since 1966.