Sunday, August 21, 2005

Distributed power: the hydrogen economy.

UK Times newspaper

GIANT wind turbines will be used to power a new breed of environmentally friendly cars that run on hydrogen gas under a pioneering scheme by Scots scientists.

ScottishPower plans to harness surplus electricity generated by turbines during high winds and convert it to hydrogen gas, which can be stored and used as fuel.

It envisages that urban refuelling stations — selling compressed hydrogen generated by rooftop turbines instead of petrol — could become commonplace across Britain, with the first appearing as early as 2010.

The move is considered important in the battle against climate change, and environmentalists believe it could improve air quality dramatically. Unlike traditional fuels, which release carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere, hydrogen cars have zero emissions, except for water vapour.

Prototype hydrogen cars have already been developed by Honda and Ford. The engines, which are almost silent when the engine is running, can manage 62 miles per gallon of hydrogen and have a range of 190 miles.

In America a similar scheme is being spearheaded by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor-turned-governor of California. He has set a target of 2010 for every large highway in the state to be served by a network of hydrogen filling stations.

So far, 16 stations have opened up and a further 15 are planned to encourage more people to buy hydrogen cars.

On the Isle of Unst in the Shetland Islands, possibly the world’s first hydrogen economy, plans are well advanced to produce hydrogen to power cars and trucks on the island and for export. The fuel will be on sale to islanders for about 15p per gallon.

An excess of wind and rain means that the island is ideally placed to take advantage of a future move from an oil to a hydrogen economy.

The plan by ScottishPower scientists to harness renewable energy to make hydrogen gas is believed to be a world first. A pilot project will start next year using a half megawatt turbine on one of its wind farms, possibly at Black Law or Hagshaw Hill in south Lanarkshire. It hopes to be awarded £1m to fund the project.

Electricity generated by the turbine will be used to run a device called an “electrolyser”, which can split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The fuel cell in the cars works by reversing the process to create water, which in turn generates voltage to power the car.

Alan Mortimer, head of renewables policy for ScottishPower, said the technology was already being demonstrated in America and hydrogen-powered cars could be on Britain’s roads by 2010.


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