Emission-Free Europe: Hydrogen Projects, from Iceland to Italy

By Day, Richard | E Magazine, January-February 2007 | Go to article overview

Emission-Free Europe: Hydrogen Projects, from Iceland to Italy


Day, Richard, E Magazine


Worldwide development of hydrogen as the transport fuel of the future is growing exponentially, with Europe a dynamic center of hydrogen activity. At the end of September, energy companies Shell Hydrogen and Total France announced a joint venture with automakers like BMW, Ford, General Motors Europe and Volkswagen to facilitate the first wave of hydrogen-powered vehicles and fuelling stations. "Now is the time to move forward ... to pave the way for the introduction of hydrogen-based mobility in Europe," they said in a statement.

Formed in 2000, the European Hydrogen Association has pulled together experts from seven countries to find and promote hydrogen technology across Europe, and its website, h2euro.org, is a clearinghouse for information--from the latest fuel cell vehicles in Shanghai to the first hydrogen filling station in Norway.

One pilot scheme currently underway is the Hydrogen Bus Initiative, a real-time testing of vehicles in nine European cities, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, London and Stuttgart. In Iceland, at a cost of seven million euros ($8.7 million), three state-of-the-art buses are operating on some of Reykjavik's busiest routes. The Citaro buses, manufactured by DaimlerChrysler, use a stacked fuel cell arrangement to propel silent running electric motors with a total power output of 250 kilowatts (kW).

Hydrogen consultant Jon Bjorn Skulason of Icelandic New Energy (INE) described the advantage of testing in Iceland, "In the whole energy chain of Iceland there are absolutely no emissions of greenhouse gases because all of our electricity production is renewable," he says.

Creating a network of filling stations is one of the biggest obstacles to a hydrogen crossover, and mobile stations may have to provide an initial solution. Fuel for the Icelandic project is being generated and delivered by Shell. A corresponding program in London, run by BE also includes a prototype filling station. BP's David Nicholas said that the company wants to get a feel for what would be required in the infrastructure side of providing fuel for hydrogen-powered vehicles. Nicholas added, however, that BP isn't focusing all research purely on hydrogen. "Hydrogen is a long-term potential option," Nicholas says, "but at the moment we need a lot of questions answered to get some idea of what a hydrogen economy might look like."

Not all the hydrogen projects in Europe involve fuel ceils; some feature internal-combustion engines burning hydrogen. In Germany, BMW will be releasing a limited number of its dual-fuel Hydrogen 7 this year, which it hopes will become the first commercially available hydrogen-powered car. This adaptation of BMW's upmarket luxury sedan can travel 125 miles burning liquid hydrogen or 300 miles on gasoline.

At the recent Hydrogen 7 press launch in Berlin, Dr. Klaus Draeger said BMW was fielding a dual-fuel vehicle "to give drivers the leeway needed in a world that does not yet provide a sufficient hydrogen infrastructure."

BMW Marketing Vice President Timm Kehler said that by supplying Hydrogen 7s to 100 "opinion leaders," the company hoped to show the world that hydrogen cars are a practical and very real possibility. The customers selected would have the cars for up to six months, he said. In U.S. trials, the company will pay for the hydrogen so its high cost does not become a burden to the test drivers. …

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