UK government fails to back hydrogen

The UK government is missing an opportunity to kickstart the hydrogen fuel economy and encourage the change-over to clean cars, experts said this week.

The government is missing an opportunity to kickstart the hydrogen fuel economy and encourage the change-over to clean cars, experts said this week.

They were responding to comments by transport minister David Jamieson, who said that renewable hydrogen sources were unlikely to be sufficient before 2050 and he refused ‘to plot a path because there were too many other technologies’ to consider.

Industry claims this stance dismisses the potential of taking hydrogen from non-renewable resources. Though this carries environmental penalties, exploiting hydrogen now would encourage the set-up of an infrastructure and encourage public uptake of hydrogen technologies while renewable sources develop.

Companies such as BP already make enough hydrogen per day to keep millions of vehicles going, said BP’s Hydrogen Technology Manager, Dr Michael Jones. One plant in Essex, for example, produces 150 tonnes daily – enough to fill 16,000 BMW 7 Series hydrogen cars.

Hydrogen from natural gas costs only about 10 per cent more than the petrol or gas equivalent, he estimated. Though distribution would increase the price, this would be offset by clean fuel tax exemptions announced in the Budget. Existing networks for the distribution of natural gas could be converted to supply hydrogen to filling stations.

Companies such as Shell and ChevronTexaco are also investing in hydrogen production and storage, and a method exists to extract hydrogen from natural gas without producing carbon dioxide. Norwegian company Kvaerner’s technique uses a 1200 degrees C plasma torch, electrical energy and cooling water to reduce hydrocarbons to hydrogen and carbon.

A Department of Transport spokesman said the government agrees hydrogen looks likely to be a key element in the shift to low-carbon transport. But he said no dates can be set for the transfer and it should happen only when hydrogen can be produced from renewable sources. ‘So it makes sense to look for other opportunities to make cars more efficient, cut energy use and carbon impact.

‘When the major shift to hydrogen makes sense the government will ensure the fuelling structure gets smoothly in place – as it showed with LPG.’

Following the recent Energy Review which highlighted the link between low-carbon transport and wider energy issues, the spokesman added that the government would shortly launch a major debate on this theme.