Fancy a fuel that only emits water and is abundantly available in nature?
How about one that can be used both to power internal combustion engines and to generate electricity – just by combining it with oxygen?
Hydrogen offers the potential to be the fuel that will solve our carbon emission problems – if we can get it right.
The situation at the moment is that it works well in vehicles, but:
- There’s pretty much no distribution network in any country
- The process of making hydrogen gas currently generates CO2 and uses a lot of energy – defeating the purpose of having a zero emission fuel.
- Hydrogen fuel cells are currently extremely expensive to produce and require precious (expensive) metals for their manufacture.
However, history teaches us that logistical and engineering problems like those above are often solvable – meaning that hydrogen could have real potential as a fuel of the future.
Not everyone agrees, however. Jamie Beevor, from the Energy Saving Trust, believes that future fuels are likely to be a combination of existing and emerging technologies – “there is unlikely to be a silver bullet.”
Beevor also thinks that it’s possible that “with battery and electric vehicle technology rapidly progressing, battery electric vehicles could steal a march on hydrogen.”
So the jury is still out on hydrogen. At least two major motor manufacturers – BMW and Honda – have invested heavily in developing hydrogen-fuelled vehicles that are now commercially available (just!).
Honda’s FCX Clarity uses hydrogen fuel cells to power and electric motor, while BMW’s Hydrogen 7 has a regular petrol engine that can run on hydrogen or petrol. It’s technically a hybrid, but that’s primarily because there are so few places where you can fill up with hydrogen.
I’d love to see hydrogen succeed – if only because it would be a boyhood science fiction concept come true – but I wouldn’t be surprised if electric power wins over most other types of fuel in coming years. It already is developing fast and offers the twin advantages of mature , global distribution networks and centralised generation.