Sheffield’s polluted air is rarely out of the news - whether it’s the latest shock figures, missed EU targets or premature deaths.
Yet despite the hand wringing, the air we breathe appears to be under constant attack - from old buses and trucks blasting out fumes, to rows of idling black cabs, to the thousands of ‘rigged’ VW diesels still on our streets.
But one company has the technology and the ambition to blow the smog away forever.
In fact Sheffield could have the cleanest air of any city in the country, according to Graham Cooley boss of ITM Power.
How? The zero emission miracle that is hydrogen.
ITM Power makes refuelling stations which run electricity through water, splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen.
Hydrogen cars produce electricity for their motors by re-combining the gas with oxygen from the air. The only waste product is water.
And if refuelling stations use renewable energy - such as solar or wind - the whole process is carbon-free, producing no greenhouse gases and no soot.
Hydrogen technology is taking off, last year was the firm’s best and it has £24.5m of orders in the pipeline.
Now, Mr Cooley says Sheffield can be at the forefront of a revolution.
He added: “We are right at the beginning of renewable fuel, and in the same way that Sheffield embraced steelmaking, it can embrace the production of equipment to make a new fuel.
“We would like to market Sheffield as the city in UK with the cleanest air. We are pushing for it to be an early adopter.
“Sheffield has one of the most important hydrogen refuelling companies in the world - we want to have the whole of the city as our showcase.
“By collaborating with local companies we can achieve something marvellous. We want to turn Sheffield’s history of bad air quality on its head.”
ITM Power wants to partner with companies to install refuelling stations - especially those with big fleets. They provide the land and ITM applies for planning permission and grants to pay for them.
All the big car makers now have hydrogen models. Fill up times, range and fuel costs are about the same as petrol. And with enough infrastructure, every vehicle on the road could convert.
Today, there are only 15 hydrogen refuelling stations in the whole of the UK. Two of them are in the Sheffield area, with two more in the pipeline.
It is estimated 1,000 would cover the country - a huge increase.
But Mr Cooley believes it can be done in the next eight years. It already has a “very important” partnership with oil giant Shell, which has installed three on busy forecourts in the South.
ITM Power also makes units which can store hydrogen before it is pumped into the gas network, or used to create heat or power.
They could harness energy from wind farms, some of which is dumped on stormy days because it is too much for the national grid to handle. They could also be used by factories to drastically reduce energy bills and their carbon footprint.
The opportunity is worth tens of billions of pounds.
Mr Cooley added: “When I think about air quality I think about the next generation. I have an 11-year-old daughter.
“Industry and transport can be clean and Sheffield has the technology to do it.”
A MADE IN SHEFFIELD MEMBER
California, Germany, Korea, Japan - Sheffield.
Sheffield can be one of the world’s hydrogen capitals and Graham Cooley believes the city’s trademark can help them do it.
‘Made in Sheffield’ is a historic, globally-renowned mark of quality and innovation held by just 380 of the best companies.
Mr Cooley, boss of ITM Power, said: “I’m very keen on Made in Sheffield. It is a mark of quality for our products and it will help us collaborate with local firms, we need more sites for our refuelling stations.
“It’s about their vision and determination to do something about air quality.”