Photo: The Boeing Fuel Cell Demonstrator powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. - Photo: 2017

Hydrogen, Iceland and the Future of Transport

By Lowana Veal

REYKJAVIK (IDN) – “Renewable hydrogen is set to outperform gasoline on a cost basis, due to substantial cost reductions for hydrogen and renewable technologies,” according to Jakob Kropsgaard of Norwegian firm NEL Hydrogen, which delivers solutions for producing, storing and distributing hydrogen from renewable energy

Speaking at a seminar here on alternative fuels for the future at the end of March, Kropsgaard said that “it is possible to produce hydrogen at a cost of 3-5 euros per kg”. When used for fuel, hydrogen is measured in kilos rather than litres.

Nevertheless, according to Valgeir Baldursson, CEO of Skeljungur oil company, “consumption of hydrogen fuel at the moment is not sufficient to produce a low price. The current cost in Europe is about 10 euros per kg.”

Hydrogen cars can be fuelled in two ways. Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) have fuel cells which combine compressed hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, which in turn runs a motor. The other type uses hydrogen with the traditional internal combustion engine.

However, Jon Bjorn Skulason of Icelandic New Energy says: “As far as I know, no one is looking at the internal combustion engine for hydrogen in cars today.”

Back in 2003, Iceland was a pioneer in the hydrogen revolution when it set up a hydrogen-fuelling station and three hydrogen-fuelled buses in Reykjavik. The experiment was supposed to last three years, but was extended by one year.

Thorsteinn R. Hermannsson, Director of the Reykjavik Department of Transportation, says that the hydrogen project at that time was an R&D project with the aim of gaining deeper understanding of the use of hydrogen in buses. The original idea was to follow up the trial by introducing hydrogen buses into the urban fleet, which is run by Straeto, a public transport company.

“But the development of hydrogen buses took much longer than expected. The second generation of hydrogen buses came into use around 2009, but Iceland didn’t take part as the economic circumstances at the time were difficult,” Hermannsson explained.

“However, hydrogen buses are now being serially manufactured and Straeto is looking at taking part in an EU project that consists of bringing such buses back into the fleet.”

Straeto is currently running two methane buses in Reykjavik and this summer four electric buses will be added. Hermannsson says that Straeto aims to be eco-friendly and probably more than one type of fuel will be used in future. “It is important to utilize different techniques early on, as this will help with purchasing decisions in the future,” he added.

In February, Skeljungur and Nel signed an agreement to establish and finance Icelandic Hydrogen. The project was realised with support from an initiative called Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME), an offshoot of the EU-funded Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH-JU).

Ten hydrogen-fuelled vehicles will be transported to Iceland at the end of this year, while early next year one electrolyser and three multi-fuel service stations will be set up (the original hydrogen-refuelling station was dismantled in 2012).

The multi-fuel stations will service electric vehicles and cars fuelled by hydrogen or methane, as well as cars running on conventional fuels. “The idea is to sell it at a similar price to conventional fuels. But there has to be sufficient demand,” Baldursson told participants at the Reykjavik seminar.

Compared with its small population of 338,000 inhabitants, Iceland is geographically surprisingly large, with an area of 103,000 square kilometres. The majority of the population is clustered round Reykjavik in the southwest, although around 20,000 live in Akureyri in the north.

Alternative fuels can be accessed in Akureyri as well as the capital area, but currently lack of infrastructure restricts the sale of eco-friendly and zero-emission cars to those who have access to fuel stations.

The multi-fuel service stations are destined to be in the Reykjavik area, although when asked if this would prove problems to those travelling around the country, Baldursson replied: “We haven’t yet decided where to put the three stations. Eventually there will be other stations around the country.”

Hydrogen-fuelled and electric vehicles are classed as zero-emission as well as eco-friendly because they do not release greenhouse gases when driven, whereas methane, methane hybrids, plug-in hybrids and hybrids are classified as eco-friendly because they run completely or mostly on renewable fuels.

Hydrogen vehicles have an advantage over electric vehicles in that refuelling is similar to that of cars using conventional fuel. Refuelling needs to be done after about 550 km driving and takes 3-4 minutes.

“I drove my family from Denmark to Italy and back in the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai car last year. I spent 40 minutes refuelling,” said Kropsgaard.

An Action Plan on Energy Conversion (available only in Icelandic) is currently being discussed in one of the parliamentary committees in Iceland and should be implemented within the next month or so, according to Ingvi M. Palsson, Director-General of the Ministry of Industries and Innovation. It has generally been well received, he says.

The proposal includes incentives for zero-emission vehicles in the form of VAT refunds and the production of hydrogen as fuel. The use of zero-emission buses is mentioned, along with the idea of using these for inner city and airport shuttle services. By 2030, 40 percent of all vehicles should be eco-friendly while the share of renewable fuel in maritime operations should be 10 percent for the same year. Current figures are 6 percent and 0.1 percent respectively. A network of charging stations for electric vehicles will be set up along Iceland’s ring road.

According to Johannes Runarsson of Straeto, both hydrogen and electric buses could potentially be used as airport shuttles – the international airport is about 45 km from the city centre – but charging points are needed in the case of electric buses.

“However, what is needed is infrastructure and support from the State with this energy conversion, as certain investments must be made. Hydrogen and electric buses are also about twice as expensive as diesel buses,” he added.

Car manufacturers say that the cost will come down significantly when hydrogen cars start being mass-produced, which should happen before 2020.

Zero-energy and eco-friendly cars were also part of an Iceland and Climate Change report (also available only in Icelandic) compiled by the Institute of Economics at the University of Iceland and published in February 2017. It pointed out that for each tonne of greenhouse gas reduction, the use of hydrogen in transport is one of the two most expensive options. As before, hydrogen would probably be produced from water via electrolysis.

Compared with other options, the report said that the use of hydrogen and electric cars will have by far the greatest effect on reductions of greenhouse gases in Iceland, both in the short term, until 2030, and in the long term, until 2050.

The section on transport in the report was written in 2015 by Darri Eythorsson and assumed that hydrogen vehicles will be powered by the internal combustion engine. Asked why hydrogen cars with fuel cells were disregarded, Eythorsson said: “At that time there were no grounds for measuring either the efficiency of the generator or the cost of the technique, as at that time there were no FCEV cars on the market.”

Development of fuel cells has clearly advanced rapidly in the last two years. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 April 2017]

Photo: The Boeing Fuel Cell Demonstrator powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate –

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