Britain's first public hydrogen filling-station has opened in Swindon. It will be run by BOC (British Oxygen Company) who are the nation's biggest supplier of compressed gases. It is said that the station is an important step in a national scheme to make hydrogen vehicles a viable alternative to petrol-driven cars.
Swindon Borough Council's regeneration body, Forward Swindon, was awarded a Â£250,000 grant from the South West England Regional Development Agency in order to build the fuel station at Honda in Swindon.
Although there are practically no hydrogen-powered cars on British roads there is the murmur that hydrogen cars are the future of practically zero-emission motoring.
It is hoped that the scheme will encourage the manufacture of hydrogen-cars in Britain, which currently are made mostly in Japan.
Sounds great but where will the hydrogen come from? Practically all the world's hydrogen - used in the petrochemical industry and to make artificial nitrogen fertilizers via combining it with nitrogen in the Haber-Bosch process, is made by steam-reforming natural gas. CO2 is a by-product, and will need to be "stored" if the overall process is to be truly as clean and green as is claimed. Electrolysing water on a vast scale as a source of hydrogen using green-electricity e.g. from wind-power is still on the drawing board and there is the problem that the rare earth elements used increasingly in the magnets of wind-turbines are becoming relentlessly scarce and expensive.
True that hydrogen cars do not pollute as do petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles, but at a cost of Â£9.5 million for one car, the price will need to be brought-down vastly if this is to be a serious contender for alternative transport. There is the further issue that there is insufficient available platinum to fabricate more than a tiny fraction of the number of fuel cells required to replace oil-fuelled transportation on any significant scale.
In respect of all these limitations, H-transport really is a flash in the pan.
By. Professor Chris Rhodes
Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, earning both a B.Sc and a Doctoral degree (D.Phil.); rising to become the youngest professor of physical chemistry in the U.K. at the age of 34.
A prolific author, Chris has published more than 400 research and popular science articles (some in national newspapers: The Independent and The Daily Telegraph)
He has recently published his first novel, "University Shambles" was published in April 2009 (Melrose Books). http://universityshambles.com