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AA launches its first hydrogen fuelled recovery vehicle

By Maxine Ashford | September 1, 2022

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Breakdown and recovery company, the AA, has launched its first vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology and it is plying its trade around the streets of Birmingham.

AA launches its first hydrogen fuelled recovery vehicle

Breakdown and recovery company, the AA, has launched its first vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology and it is plying its trade around the streets of Birmingham.

The vehicle, which is an adapted Hyundai Nexo SUV, was on display at the recent British Motor Show where it was gaining plenty of attention thanks to all the clever adaptations making it ready for day-to-day recovery work.

Hydrogen power is one of the cleanest energy sources as it mixes hydrogen with oxygen to create electricity. And the only emission is water. Vehicles running on hydrogen can be topped up in the same manner as a petrol or diesel car and it takes a similar amount of time.

It sounds too good to be true and, in a way, it is. Because there is one major drawback and it is quite a big obstacle to overcome. If you thought the EV charging infrastructure was lacking, there are just 15 outlets throughout the whole of the UK that can accommodate hydrogen refuelling.

But, one such filling station is located in Birmingham and that is where the adapted AA vehicle would start its working life straight after the motor show at Farnborough.

The Nexo has an impressive range of 414 miles between refuelling and with zero emissions will be able to travel freely through low emission zones, making it ideal for city centre work.

It has a practical SUV-type design with a fuel cell system that combines oxygen and hydrogen to create a flow of electrons that powers the electric drive motor and charges the 1.56kWh high voltage battery.

We caught up with Richard Stewart, AA Technical Liaison engineer and Tony Rich, AA Public Relation’s Manager at the Farnborough show, where they gave us a guided tour around the new-look Nexo.

Richard Stewart said: “Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements in the galaxy so it’ll never run out. It can be produced using green energy and its only emission is clean water. In fact, the exhaust pipe on the Nexo is made from plastic as it doesn’t get hot.

“There is a high-voltage battery on board to prevent any lag during acceleration and it’s absolutely lovely to drive – and I’m not just saying that. The acceleration is really smooth and it drives just like an EV.

“With ICE vehicles facing bans from city centres, this is definitely the future. This Nexo is a really big move forward and investment for the AA and we will evaluate as we go,” he added.

Converting the vehicle was not a simple task and took quite a lot of planning as Tony Rich explained: “We had to make sure everything was fitted for convenience and also securely as we couldn’t put patrol workers at risk from sliding equipment.

“The vehicle cost in the region of £75k, but we received a Government grant of £24k that really helped bring down the cost. The actual conversion, including researching what needed to be done, was only about £6k.

“But now we have a vehicle that is as well-equipped as any of our smaller fleet models with a full range of tools, a trolley jack, lock-out kits, diesel and petrol cans along with AdBlue.”

The day-to-day workings and success of the AA Nexo patrol van will be closely monitored and then the AA will announce any further developments. But it is constantly looking towards the future as Edmund King, AA president, explained: “The discussions about carbon reduction and zero emission vehicles have tended to concentrate on Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs).

“At the AA we are investing in electric vehicles but believe that there will be a role for hydrogen and possibly synthetic fuels in the future, especially for business fleets.

“We want Patrols to pilot this hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to see what lessons we can learn. We believe hydrogen might be used for our bigger tow trucks in the future.

“As part of our ESG strategy we believe that driving doesn’t have to cost the earth and we’re committed to reducing our impact and supporting drivers to do the same. To achieve this the AA has recently announced its commitment to become Net Zero for our own emissions by 2035, including our greenhouse gas emissions generated by our operational fleet which are the AA’s most significant source of direct emissions.

“This is an ambitious target, as there isn’t yet a van in production that can run on alternative fuel and meet all our needs. We have tested many vehicles and will continue to trial new technology as it becomes available while investing in innovation that reduces our environmental impact. We’re also partnering with others to help develop the tech that’ll make it easier to transition to electric and lower carbon emission vehicles.

“As part of this target we are rolling out electric vehicles (EVs) into our operational fleets where we can and trialling other low carbon vehicles and technology across our group.”

It will be interesting to see how the AA’s converted Nexo copes with life in the fast lane in Birmingham.

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