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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Is hydrogen the future of motoring?

Sept 20, 2011

The opening of the UK's first public refuelling station for hydrogen vehicles in Swindon is part of efforts to create a "hydrogen highway" along the M4 motorway.

It is also seen as an important step in a UK-wide scheme to make hydrogen vehicles a viable alternative to petrol-driven cars.

"A hydrogen car is much cleaner than a conventional car," says Professor Kevin Kendall, a hydrogen and fuel cell expert from Birmingham University.

"This will clean up our cities enormously," he says in an interview with BBC News. "No emissions whatsoever."

Hydrogen-powered cars rely on a fuel cell that takes oxygen from the air and combines it with hydrogen from a tank to create electricity.

The electricity is used to power electric motors, which turn the car's wheels.

As such, hydrogen-powered cars can be seen as electric vehicles that are not held back by the limited range of batteries.

"Your electric battery car does 60 miles [100km], this does 300 miles. It fills in five minutes rather than five hours," says Professor Kendall.

"This is the one for the future, there's no doubt in my mind."

'Cheaper than electricity'

Creating a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is essential for the future of hydrogen-powered motoring, which some carmakers see as the eventual future of so-called zero-emissions motoring.

"For long-distance driving, hydrogen fuel cells are very promising," according to Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of Daimler, the owner of Mercedes and Smart cars.

Rolling out the infrastructure will not be cheap, of course, but it might be a more cost-effective solution than the creation of a battery recharging infrastructure for conventional electric cars, says Dr Zetsche.

"For battery electric vehicles, you'll need infrastructure that is probably more costly than hydrogen," he insists.

"More charging stations mean more parking places are needed because it takes longer for them to refuel."

According to current estimates, creating a nationwide hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in Germany would cost between 1bn and 1.4bn euros ($1.4bn-$1.9bn; £870m-£1.2bn), though the eventual cost could be half that, Dr Zetsche says.

"So the cost is definitely not an obstacle to go into this area," he says.
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