A massive international effort is being made to overcome the challenges faced by fuel cells and hydrogen technologies. This effort, both private and public, will require applied research and development. This is according to the Department of Energy white paper, ‘Meeting the Energy Challenge’, published in 2007.
Now this sort of research is being proposed by the UKH2Mobility Project. It is composed of thirteen representatives of gas, infrastructure, energy and car manufacturers including Toyota, Vauxhall and Nissan. These manufacturers all have significant hydrogen fuel-cell research programmes. Interestingly enough, Honda are not included in this.
Hydrogen is an energy carrier and can be created easily by the process of electrolysis where water is decomposed by having an electric current passed through it. Some UK companies are claiming that they are already well ahead with this technology but the efficiency varies with claims of between fifty and eighty percent. ITM is one such company that claims to have a lead in this technology.
The process can be speeded up by carrying it out at high temperature or pressure which cuts down the need to compress the hydrogen into gas, but this can cost thirty percent of the energy value of the fuel. So many experts think that there is a possibility of the UK making a contribution to develop a hydrogen economy because we have spare electricity and we have the technology.
A senior technical expert with Cenex, Dr. Peter Speers, says that the key is to make hydrogen renewable. Cenex is the Centre of Excellence for low carbon and fuel-cell technologies. It was formed by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to promote the transportation of fuel cells.
Many hydro-electric plants also have a hydrogen plant which uses the spare electricity mostly for the manufacture of fertilizer. Spare electricity from wind farms can also be used for making hydrogen.
Dr. Speers says that this spare electricity should be integrated as a holistic energy solution. He adds that the UK has a great advantage because we make two million cars every year and there is plenty of scope there.