Byline: Robin Turner
THE M4 in South Wales is to become a "Hydrogen Highway" with a network of alternative fuel stations stretching between Swansea, Cardiff and Newport.
Under the pioneering scheme, announced yesterday, the region will be at the vanguard of greener road transport in the UK.
The idea is to have silent, hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars using the motorway by 2015 giving off just water vapour in contrast to the harmful emissions of the cars of today.
Wales has been designated a Low Carbon Economic Area (LCEA) for hydrogen and low-carbon fuel technologies such as natural gas and bio-methane.
South Wales will link with Bristol, Swindon, London and the Midlands to create UK's longest alternative fuel routes, with a range of a refuelling points at strategic sites. There will be electric plug-in facilities, hydrogen, compressed natural gas and bio-methane-filling points.
Although hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe, it takes electricity to "split" it from other atoms such as oxygen.
Gordon James, Cardiff-based director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, welcomed the scheme but said it was vital renewable energy was used to make the hydrogen fuel.
Launching the Hydrogen Highway plan at Port Talbot's Baglan Energy Park yesterday, Pontypridd AM and Assembly Environment Secretary Jane Davidson said Wales would be a trailblazer in hydrogen technology.
She said: "Wales will be a flagship for what I hope is the start of a major move away from the use of fossil fuels for transport and in buildings."
She hoped hydrogen-powered cars and public transport would be using the Welsh stretch by 2015.
Last September, seven manufacturers - Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Renault-Nissan and Toyota - published a joint statement saying they "strongly anticipate that from 2015 onwards a quite significant number of electric vehicles with fuel cell could be commercialised".
Ms Davidson also revealed the University of Glamorgan would play a key role in the new strategy aimed at stimulating major car manufacturers to produce hydrogen and other alternative fuel cars.
The university has been awarded pounds 6.3m to its project Cymru-H2Wales, building on the university's expertise in the field of hydrogen energy to develop new processes, products and services.
The university will look at developing: Hydrogen production from renewable electricity; hydrogen fuel cells for use in clean, green vehicles; the strategic build-up ofWales' hydrogen refuelling infrastructure; and biological hydrogen production (using bacteria). The university has already produced a "Tribrid" minibus which can be fuelled by hydrogen, lead acid battery or ultra-capacitators.
It plans to expand the fleet to transport students to and from campus.
Professor Alan Guwy, leading the project, said: "CymruH2Wales addresses many of the critical aspects in the development of hydrogen and fuel cells as vital emerging energy technologies and aims to establish new Welsh jobs in this important new energy industry. …