Iceland gives hydrogen the cold shoulder

Iceland has long been touted as a hydrogen economy pioneer. So it is quite shocking that electric vehicles — both plug-in hybrids and pure battery electric cars — crowded out hydrogen at a recent Reykjav­k conference.

Iceland is blessed with abudant hydro-electric opportunities, and currently generates 6.5 TWh (Tera Watt hours, which is equal to a million megawatt hours) per year, with the potential of 25 -30 TWh per year. Geothermal currently generates 1.3 TWh per year, with a potential of 15 TWh per year over the next 100 years. Almost 100% of electricity in Iceland comes from these two sources. Geothermal energy is also used for space heating.

Yet 30% of total energy consumption still comes from oil, which is primarily used in transportation (cars and boats). Iceland seeks to get rid of its remaining fossil fuel dependence, and for a while it was intensely focused on becoming one of the first hydrogen economies. It installed a hydrogen fuel station, and experimented with fuel cell buses. Those buses are gone now, so it is appropriate to ask what was on Iceland’s Driving Sustainably ’08 conference agenda last week, concentrating on talks related to either electric or fuel cell vehicles.

The President of Iceland, “lafur Ragnar Gr­msson, opened the conference on Thursday monring with an address in which he said, “In the next five years or so we have to lay the fundamental groundwork of a comprehensive transformation of our traffic system, our transport, how we use the roads, how we move from one place to another, whether it is a household or a city or a country.”

Just before Thursday’s lunch, Yet-Ming Chiang, co-founder A123 Systems and MIT Professor of Materials Science & Engineering spoke on The Coming Electric Vehicle Revolution: Impact of Materials Advances on Automotive Batteries. During lunch, the program lists, “Test drive of selected EVs available outside.” Immediately after lunch came two electric vehicle talks: Wind Generated Electricity, Second Generation Biofuels, and Better Place Denmark: Electric Cars and Recharging Infrastructure in Denmark, and Design & Potential of High Performance Electric Vehicles. Perhaps they were just trying to get the EVs out of the way? After coffee came CO2 Free Power and Plug-in Hybrids in the Nordic Countries, and The Next Generation Utility: Blending Energy Efficiency, Renewable Generation and Plug-in Vehicles to Eliminate Carbon Emissions. That was nearly a full day devoted to EVs, with hydrogen nowhere in sight. Surely day 2 must have been different.

Friday morning saw Present Status & Future Prospects of Electric Vehicles in China and The i MiEV Electric Car, given by Tetsuro Aikawa, Managing Director In Charge of Product Development at Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. Well, perhaps there were some hydrogen fuel cell vehicles at brunch? No, the program says again “Test drive of selected EVs.”

Friday afternoon kicked off with a keynote, Better Place: A Mobility Operator Enabling EV Mass Adoption. Finally the hydrogen team gets up to the plate, with Shell presenting Shell Future Fuels Scenarios until 2020: Electricity & Hydrogen for Transport. Wait, even the hydrogen team is talking about electricity?

Did the afternoon then turn to hydrogen? Next up was Myths and truths about electric cars, followed by The Death & Resurrection of the Electric Car: Carmakers, Big Oil, Environment & Battery Developments, by Chris Paine, Director of Who Killed The Electric Car? After a panel discussion, Iceland’s –ssur Skarph©°insson, Minister of Industry gave the last presentation Electricity for Transport in Iceland, which was followed by concluding remarks, and then “Free Time & EV testing“.

With only Shell waving the hydrogen flag, it was a essentially a shutout. It appears that Iceland has cooled toward hydrogen, and is shifting attention to electric vehicles. The New York Times blogged Iceland’s Future Could Be Electric, which reported:

“Hydrogen cars are not mass produced anywhere,” said Teitur Torkelsson, managing partner of FTO Sustainable Solutions. “But a majority of car makers are announcing electric cars to be produced in the next four or five years, so it becomes a big part of our energy solutions.” Even the country’s 840-mile-long ring road could theoretically be covered with just 14 fast-charging stations. The Icelandic government is expected to ease the way for the E.V.’s by removing import taxes on them, as was recommended by a Finance Ministry working group.

— Earl K.

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11 Responses to Iceland gives hydrogen the cold shoulder

  1. Bob Wallace says:

    What fun. Some time back I said that Iceland was unlikely to switch to hydrogen fueled cars simply because no one was going to mass produce them. The price was just going to be too high.

    (But don’t start to think me a successful futurist. I’m like Knuntsler, I stumbled into something once in a while. ;o)

  2. Ronald says:

    Iceland might be getting the message, but how about the New York Times. Thursday’s paper had an energy section and it had an article on Hydrogen and predictions of 2 million vehicles in the near future and 200 million vehicles by 2050, (or something like that.) They made a big deal of having Hydrogen fuel pumps concentrated in large cities and this was some kind of thinking breakthrough. It made me ill.

  3. Ronald says:

    Maybe it wasn’t Thursday’s paper, might have been Wednesday’s, but it was this week.

  4. Bob Wallace says:

    Sure wish we had a “true stuff about energy” site.

    A place one could go to get reliable information about all things energy and environment.

    Then we’d have less crap coming out from reporters who access bad sources.

  5. Milan says:

    This isn’t surprising, given the cost of fuel cells and the fact that hydrogen is an inferior fuel. You can make it either by breaking down hydrocarbons or breaking up water with electricity. In either case, youl would be better off using the fuel or electricity directly.

  6. Bob Wallace says:

    Once upon a time hydrogen seemed like a good solution for getting off petroleum. It was thought that fuel cell prices would come down to some reasonable level in a reasonable time.

    But that didn’t happen and batteries started improving.

    Hydrogen would have been a good solution for Iceland. If someone made the cars for them. They’ve got an incredible amount of cheap energy from both close to the surface geothermal and hydro. As one drives along the coastal ring of Iceland (where everyone lives) it’s common to see several major waterfalls at a time.

    I suppose with global warming they’re going to have a lot more hydro coming from their interior….

  7. Milan says:

    Even in Iceland, it is the efficiency from source to use that matters most when considering hydrogen.

    The kinetic energy -> electricity -> charged batteries -> kinetic energy pathway is a much more efficienct than the kinetic energy -> electricity -> hydrogen -> electricity -> kinetic energy pathway.

  8. Bob Wallace says:

    Well, yes, but because of the unique geology of Iceland energy is very abundant.

    We didn’t need to worry about efficiency when oil was plentiful and therefore cheap.

    Speaking of efficiency – anyone on top of this one?

    Bogus or not?

    According to Rongjia Tao, Chair of Temple’s Physics Department, the small device consists of an electrically charged tube that can be attached to the fuel line of a car’s engine near the fuel injector. With the use of a power supply from the vehicle’s battery, the device creates an electric field that thins fuel, or reduces its viscosity, so that smaller droplets are injected into the engine. That leads to more efficient and cleaner combustion than a standard fuel injector, he says.

    Six months of road testing in a diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz automobile showed that the device increased highway fuel from 32 miles per gallon to 38 mpg, a 20 percent boost, and a 12-15 percent gain in city driving.

  9. Earl Killian says:

    Bob, perhaps you could ask this Professor:
    That sort of thing is his specialty.

  10. shop says:

    Renewable energy industry groups and environmentalists have not given up hope. Various advocacy groups are continuing their appeals. “If left unresolved, this lack of legislation will be a major impediment to continued investment and innovation in the clean technology sector,” said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association.