Australia’s Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) could become the largest supplier of green hydrogen to the UK after striking a deal with construction giant J C Bamford Excavators (JCB) and Ryze Hydrogen.

FFI revealed it had signed a memorandum of understanding for JCB and Ryze to buy 10% of its global green hydrogen production, with the announcement coming as the COP26 climate summit got underway in Glasgow over the weekend.

While FFI does not currently produce green hydrogen at an industrial scale, chairman Andrew Forrest has previously stated that the company is aiming to commence commercial-scale green hydrogen production as early as 2023.

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It is then targeting annual green hydrogen production of 15 million tonnes per annum by 2030, while it has set an even more ambitious goal of reaching more than 50 million tpa of green hydrogen production the following decade.

At best, any hydrogen made from fossil fuel is being promoted as a transition fuel, but the production of it causes more pollution than it saves

Ryze founder Jo Bamford

First 'major shift' from fossil fuel to green hydrogen

Under the MoU signed over the weekend, JCB and Ryze will manage green hydrogen distribution and development of customer demand in the UK, while FFI will lead the green hydrogen production and logistics to the UK market.

“Our agreement signals the first major shift in the global commercial landscape from fossil fuels towards the real, practical, implementable solution that is green hydrogen,” Forrest said Sunday.

“The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions associated with replacing fossil fuel with only 2 million tonnes of green hydrogen is the equivalent of taking over 8 million cars off the road – almost a quarter of the UK’s entire fleet.”

JCB chairman Lord Anthony Bamford said the agreement with FFI was an important step towards getting green hydrogen to customers.

“It’s fine having an engine powered by green hydrogen, but no good if customers can’t get green hydrogen to fuel their machines,” he said.

“This is a major advance on the road towards making green hydrogen a viable solution.”

It comes as JCB recently announced it was investing £100 million ($136.8 million) to produce “super efficient” hydrogen engines, with the first machines containing the new hydrogen engines being targeted for sale by the end of next year.

Accelerating the transition to green hydrogen

The companies are also evaluating an extended offtake agreement to provide green hydrogen to the European market, while they will also look at ways to accelerate green hydrogen demand and establish green hydrogen and green industry manufacturing centres.

Ryze founder Jo Bamford called on the UK government to invest in “buses, trains, trucks, ships, aircraft and the entire green hydrogen supply chain”, while also taking a swipe at the government’s current support for blue hydrogen, which is produced using natural gas.

“At best, any hydrogen made from fossil fuel is being promoted as a transition fuel, but the production of it causes more pollution than it saves,” he said.

Green vs Blue

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas feedstocks, with the carbon dioxide by-product from hydrogen production captured and stored. However, the process is not emissions free.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysis powered by renewable energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, creating an emissions-free fuel.

“This agreement demonstrates that green hydrogen does not need to be ‘transitioned’ via fossil fuel hydrogen. Production of it can commence at once, to meet the needs of all mobility.”

Ryze claims to be creating the UK’s first network of green hydrogen production plants, while Jo Bamford is also the owner of Wrightbus, which claims to have built the world’s first hydrogen powered double decker bus.

FFI in US green hydrogen technology acquisition

The announcement of the MoU with JCB and Ryze followed an announcement late last week from FFI that it had acquired the commercial assets of US-based start-up Xergy for an undisclosed sum.

It will use the acquired assets to form its own US-based technology development subsidiary, FFI Ionix, which will be focused on the commercialisation of hydrogen technologies, including ion exchange membranes for water electrolysis, electrochemical compression, water transmission and fuel cells.

“These investments will advance the technologies needed for FFI’s green hydrogen projects,” said FFI chief executive Julie Shuttleworth.

“Together, our goal is to make zero emissions energy available at an industrial, global scale as we become the world’s leading, fully renewable energy and green products company.”

The acquisition includes Xergy’s new range of “leading-edge” anion exchange membranes (AEM), as well as over 100 patents and applications.

AEM is said to have the potential to unlock large cost savings for green hydrogen production, with manufacturers of the technology stating it combines the benefits of proton-exchange membrane (PEM) and alkaline systems.

It does this by replacing conventional noble metal electrocatalysts with low cost transition metal catalysts while achieving energy densities and efficiencies comparable to PEM technology.