Magazine article New Internationalist

Clean the Planet

Magazine article New Internationalist

Clean the Planet

Article excerpt

THERE are more than 540 million vehicles in the world. They have a lot to answer for. Traffic accidents kill more than a million people each year, injure tens of millions more and cost poorer countries twice as much as they receive in international aid. The development of hydrogen energy won't stop this. Nor will it rectify the urban planning nightmares caused by car congestion and the building of ever-more roads.

But hydrogen energy can help stop a third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions that transportation causes. Cars run by hydrogen fuel cells can eradicate the fumes that currently contribute to thousands of pollution-related deaths each year in megacities like Delhi, Beijing and Mexico City. Hydrogen therefore has a significant potential to start reversing the social problems cars cause.

At present the extent of this reversal is largely in the hands of the oil and auto companies. Hydrogen for fuel cells can be generated from renewable sources (for instance, water electrolysis through wind or solar power) or emerge from the process of 'reforming' hydrocarbons (including gasoline and methane). It can be supplied directly to a car in liquid form or made on board the vehicle. The least polluting method is to generate the hydrogen from renewable sources and supply it direct to the vehicle - the only emission is a puff of water vapour. The most polluting methods are the ones that rely on reforming hydrocarbons inside the car. As the costs of the former currently far outweigh the latter, most car manufacturers favour concentrating their research and development on continuing use of hydrocarbons - and continuing creation of emissions (although at a lower level). …

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