The UK’s BBC News and World Service ran a week-long feature last week (week commencing 13th Feb) called “Fuelling the Future”.
Considering renewable, nuclear and fossil fuel energy, the feature saw radio and television programs from across the BBC’s stable of channels and programmes asking how best we might tackle our energy challenges.
One really positive thing was that Renewables, Nuclear and Oil, Coal and Gas were all given equal status through the features. This is a great sign for the renewable / alternative energy industry and illustrates a real swing in the past few years away from seeing Renewables as a minor player, towards treating Renewables as a headline option along with nuclear and fossil fuel-generated energy.
BBC News 24 showed a feature early Thursday afternoon about the Honda FCX, and the fact that Honda are currently trialling one of these fuel cell vehicles on the Japanese island of Yakushima. Apparently Yakushima is one of the wettest places in Japan, and the local residents have harnessed this abundance of water to generate hydro-electric power. Electricity from this renewable power plant is used all over the island.
Honda FCX at FC EXPO 2006, Tokyo. This FCX was giving demonstration rides to visitors to the show.
Now, however, they have started to use their abundant, carbon-free electricity to electrolyse water to produce hydrogen fuel. Renewable fuels are just as important as renewable electricity, and it is important to understand that although electricity and fuel are both vital elements of our future energy mix, they are quite different. However, in this situation, the electricity is plentiful enough that renewable hydrogen fuel can be generated.
Honda have around thirty FCX fuel cell vehicles in the world, powered by PEM fuel cell systems and running on gaseous hydrogen. Whilst many say that Honda’s fuel cells are the most advanced of any automobile manufacturer, the BBC’s feature stated wrongly that the FCX is the only fuel cell vehicle currently driving around the world’s roads. In fact, nearly all major car manufacturers have working prototypes of fuel cell vehicles. In fact, three weeks ago members of the Fuel Cell Markets (http://www.fuelcellmarkets.com/home-fcm.fcm?subsite=1) team test drove a Toyota fuel cell vehicle – the FCHV (click here to read the review: http://www.fuelcellmarkets.com/article_default_view.fcm?articleid=11781&subsite=1).
Although Honda have around thirty vehicles on the world’s roads (including one leased to a private US family), for the vehicles to be truly carbon- and pollution-free, they must be fuelled with renewable hydrogen that was generated by a process that does not emit carbon or other pollutants. It is obviously important for Honda to test their vehicle in a system where there is no pollution or carbon emission in order to judge the overall efficiency and economics of this brand new transportation paradigm.
There are at least twelve hydrogen hydrogen refuelling stations around Japan at the moment, coordinated as part of the JHFC program (www.jhfc.jp/e/). However, Yakushima is Japan’s only refuelling station that uses 100% renewable hydrogen.
There are hydrogen refuelling stations dotted around the world, and a surprising number of fuel cell vehicles (London has its own refuelling station and three fuel cell buses that run the no. 25 bus route as part of the worldwide CUTE project). Hydrogen refuelling stations that use 100% renewable hydrogen are certainly much rarer though – it tends to be cheaper to produce hydrogen from natural gas or other hydrocarbon fuels which isn’t a renewable method of generating hydrogen. That makes Yakushima an interesting and valuable experiment. Let’s hope the results are good!
Perhaps the UK can rival the Yakushima project by commissioning a hydrogen refuelling station that uses wind-generated electricity? Certainly the technology is available.
About Fuel Cell Markets
Fuel Cell Markets Ltd is focussed on accelerating the commercialisation of hydrogen, fuel cell and related technologies. The marketplace at www.fuelcellmarkets.com is an interactive, open industry database. It has been specifically designed to help improve communications within the emerging alternative energy industry, provide a bridge to traditional industry and energy markets and to offer an educational resource for end-users that will help drive demand for alternative and sustainable energy solutions.