ZERO-EMISSION HYDROGEN technology has captured the imaginations of a small but evangelical group led by ICE renewable resources champion Peter Chambers.
At the recent London Association Hydrogen Roadshow academics, consultants and energy industry experts focused on what will be delivered. In the near term this will include hydrogen-powered transport.
Hydrogen-fuelled cars will be driving on UK roads by 2004, discharging little other than water vapour and heat. Motor industry giants Daimler- Chrysler and Ford have built prototype vehicles and independently have committed to a production model in five years time.
What makes cars and buses such an effective showcase for hydrogen, managing director of the World Fuel Cell Council Marcus Nurdin suggested, is the direct cost-efficiency comparison that can be made between hydrogen and petrol or diesel.
Right now, Chambers claimed, a pound's worth of hydrogen would get you almost twice as far as a pound's worth of petrol.
And because cars are ubiquitous, the comparison would be impossible to ignore. In the same way four star has largely given place to unleaded petrol and diesel at the pumps, it was implied a similar price-led transition from polluting to non-polluting fuels would take place once hydrogen-powered vehicles became commercially available.
Long term, hydrogen will change the ways people think about energy, Chambers said. Reform of industrial and domestic energy supply would follow hard on the tail of cars.
Because hydrogen is best produced by electrolysis of water there is an inexhaustible raw resource, he claimed. The burning of hydrogen results in re-combination with oxygen to produce H2O - water.
Current hydrogen-energy technology works around generation of electricity. At the moment the transmission of electricity results in huge energy loss between source and use.
Hydrogen could be transmitted as gas to the point of demand and then converted to electricity. This could be done at the level of individual households, Chambers pointed out. Resultant improved efficiency would offer consumers further cost savings, he said.
To produce hydrogen from water in the first place, however, an initial energy source will be required. In order to make the production and consumption of hydrogen as fully sustainable as possible it will be necessary to increase dramatically electricity production from wind, sun and water.
In tandem with the evolution of a new infrastructure for distributing hydrogen, civil engineers working in the energy sector would play a role in the development of wind farms, and in particular offshore facilities, Chambers predicted.
Some of the most serious players in the sustainable energy and hydrogen power field are firms founded on fossil fuels like BP and Shell. The Roadshow had a subtext: with corporations preparing for a radical change in energy sources and use, it was not so much a case of if, but of when.