In a potential boost for the UK manufacturing supply chain, including fabricators and sheet metal specialists, more than £4 million of new hydrogen testing contracts have been secured by the Centre for Advanced Low-Carbon Propulsion Systems (C-ALPS).

The £50 million research centre, a joint investment between Coventry University and global engineering consultancy FEV, is working with some of the world’s leading engine and vehicle manufacturers, electrification start-ups and UK and European research consortia to develop new solutions for e-mobility start-ups and zero-emission drive systems.

The success of this venture has been made possible thanks to the close collaboration, with £3 million jointly invested over the last two years in the creation of a state-of-art hydrogen research, development and testing facility.

This facility is now capable of evaluating prototypes and pre-production hydrogen propulsion systems for use in trucks, coaches, off-highway machinery, ships, and trains, not to mention light to medium-sized aircraft.

C-ALPS’ five world-class test beds have also been upgraded to provide an environment that can test output up to 650kW, with a new tie-up agreed with one of the UK’s leading hydrogen refuelling businesses, Element 2, to ensure the centre has the quantity of low carbon Fuel Cell grade (ISO 14687) hydrogen it needs to meet demand.

Simon Shepherd, Director of C-ALPS, commented: “The latest contracts take the total value of joint projects active and completed at C-ALPS to more than £20 million. This, along with the level of interest we are seeing from collaborators, is a sure sign that we have created the environment and expertise required to support UK companies in meeting future propulsion technology demands.

“The joint investment from the university and FEV has been critical to the success of the latest test and development contracts now being delivered and puts us in pole position to be a leading research and development centre for hydrogen propulsion and green hydrogen production in the UK.

“Our approach has been for the university to make the initial investment in cutting-edge facilities to support high-impact research, with FEV offering additional financial and technical support and the long-term business case for the investments through the provision of commercial services for customers working on products closer to manufacture.”

Besides research and engineering development, the third role of C-ALPS is to create a real-world training environment for engineers and research specialists of the future and the recent £4 million plus contract haul will help deliver more employment opportunities.

So far seven engineers have been taken on as FEV employees – three of whom have come through the university’s undergraduate courses – with 10 PhD students working on joint projects sponsored and co-supervised with FEV in the UK and Germany.

Jörn Behrenroth, Managing Director of FEV UK, emphasised the importance and advantages of the centre: “At C-ALPS, we offer organisations, from both research and industry, the opportunity to put sustainable hydrogen propulsion systems through their paces throughout the entire development cycle, from component up to system performance development.

“Access to a continuous supply of hydrogen from Element 2 is a key advantage for the centre right now, providing reliable and long-term testing for both fuel cell and combustion-based hydrogen propulsion systems.”

With C-ALPS, FEV and Coventry University are addressing the continued growth in demand from vehicle manufacturers for development and testing capacity in the field of sustainable mobility.

Both British and international Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and developers are benefitting from the unique combination of academic expertise and long-term development and engineering know-how.

FEV, as an internationally recognised engineering service provider, brings in-depth experience in the fields of propulsion system development and validation, covering internal combustion engines, fuel-cells, battery systems and electric drives.

C-ALPS also hosts Coventry University’s Hydrogen Energy research group, which supports the Centre’s commercial activities with a wealth of academic expertise and works in parallel on high-impact, industrial collaborative research projects. 

These range from fuel cell stack instrumentation, diagnostics, and thermal management to the development of next-generation materials, processes, and electrolyser cell designs for green hydrogen production.

Oliver Curnick, Associate Professor and leader of the Hydrogen Energy research group, said: “Hydrogen energy technologies need to become more efficient and be ready to scale-up quickly to realise their full potential in a future sustainable energy system.

“Our research is focused on addressing these challenges, and the facilities we’ve established through the agreement with FEV at C-ALPS provides us with a fantastic platform for our work in this area.”

Simon Shepherd concluded: “Skills and training is another area where the collaboration is really excelling, with the university developing electrification short courses to help rapidly scale new capabilities.

“C-ALPS is definitely a blueprint for industry and academia to follow, especially if we are looking to solve the current labour and skills shortages.”

Coventry University