April 2, 2008 Fifty million metric tons of hydrogen were produced in 2004, and the hydrogen production industry grows at an estimated 10% per year. But for hydrogen-powered cars to emerge as a serious competitor to fossil-fuel-powered transport there still needs to be substantial development of infrastructure. The latest push towards this goal in the U.K has seen ITM Power Plc and Roush Technologies Ltd sign a co-operative agreement that not only aims to put hydrogen-fueled commercial vehicles on the market within months, but also encompasses the development of hydrogen refueling station infrastructure that will enable vehicle operators to generate their own hydrogen supplies.
Proponents of a hydrogen economy see the adoption of fuel-cell vehicles as best way forward in terms of reducing green house emissions. For example, a recent paper delivered by President of H2Gen Innovations Dr. C.E. Thomas*, while not ignoring the short term need to pursue plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and biofuel solutions, argues that the widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is the only way to reduce US greenhouse gases by 60% in the transportation sector. The radical potential of hydrogen power to reduce greenhouse gases is due to the fact that it produces only water at the point of use, completely eliminating carbon dioxide emission. In addition to being more environmentally friendly than the internal combustion engine, hydrogen fuel cells can achieve an efficiency of between 40-70%, are quieter, and have fewer moving parts.
However, for the hydrogen economy to be truly environmentally friendly, and viable, the method of producing hydrogen must be clean and cost effective. Currently, 30% of globally produced hydrogen is made from oil, and 18% is produced by coal. Water electrolysis, which passes an electrical current through H20 in order to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen, accounts for only 4%. This process of course, uses electricity, so part of the overall package for a truly green hydrogen economy is still the development of renewable electric power generation infrastructure - a challenge that looms large for businesses and governments everywhere.
The ITM Power and Roush Technologies agreement will hopefully demonstrate that clean, financially viable hydrogen infrastructure is not unreachable in the present day, and will only grow in the future. Under the agreement, Roush will adapt existing engines to take fuel cells, and research the development of new power units that utilize hydrogen fuel, while ITM Power will continue to develop its refueling stations.
The electrolyzer used in the refueling stations will produce hydrogen using electricity from either off-peak or renewable sources, like wind, wave or solar power.
Jim Heathcote, CEO of ITM Power, commented: “This is a significant co-operative agreement between two companies who are committed to bringing practical hydrogen power into the automotive market place within a dramatically reduced timeframe. Whilst it initially involves the commercial vehicle sector, it will demonstrate the wider potential of hydrogen technology to help cut CO2 emissions and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Speaking on behalf of Roush Technologies, Andrew Williams, Executive Chairman, added: "Both our companies recognize that bringing emission-free energy technologies forward and to market, requires an integrated approach. This involves the production and supply chain for the fuel – together with the development and applications engineering which enables its effective usage. In context therefore, this agreement acknowledges the considerable synergy between us, and the major benefits and opportunities which will flow from it.”
*The full text of Dr.Thomas' report can be downloaded at Fuelcells.org.