AFP, published on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 at 08:07
Kevin Kendall stops his vehicle at the only station that distributes green hydrogen in Birmingham, in central England, and refuels with this fuel produced exclusively from renewable energies.
This gas, the lightest element in the universe, is the subject of all the attention in the United Kingdom, which is trying to ensure its energy supply since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and in the face of the climate emergency after the mercury records this summer. .
However, at the pump, which looks like those that distribute gasoline, there is no crowd. The hydrogen economy is still embryonic, although its players hope to see it one day prevail in highly polluting sectors such as the steel industry and aviation.
Full price of the professor’s Toyota Mirai: 50 pounds (about 60 euros), half less than for a diesel vehicle of similar size, blamed on the rise in the price of hydrocarbons with the war in Ukraine.
Despite these advantageous prices, the country is only home to around a dozen refueling points. “Very little green hydrogen is being produced in Britain at the moment,” Kendall, a professor of chemical engineering, told AFP he would like to see the gas “move on.”
He founded a small company called Adelan with his daughter Michaela, which has been producing fuel cells for 26 years, a device that converts hydrogen energy into electricity. This is the process used, for example, to power Mr. Kendall’s car.
– Green, blue, hydrogen gray… –
The problem is that hydrogen is difficult to obtain. The most abundant element on earth is not available in a pure state but is trapped in water and hydrocarbons such as natural gas.
Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis, that is, the separation of oxygen and hydrogen from water by means of an electric current, obtained in turn by means of renewable energies.
There are other manufacturing methods, much more common, but which emit greenhouse gases, such as “grey” hydrogen, from natural gas, or even “blue” with the same technique combined with the capture of part of the CO2.
“Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, green hydrogen has become more and more attractive” because it could solve the difficult equation between energy security, affordable prices and sustainable development, Minh Khoi Le, head of hydrogen research at China, told AFP. Rystad Energy.
The European Union, forced to reduce its gas consumption by 15% to compensate for reduced Russian deliveries, is also seeking, for example, to significantly increase its supplies of green hydrogen.
The British executive, which is committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, estimates for its part that 9,000 million pounds of investment will be necessary “to make hydrogen the cornerstone” of its plan to green the country.
In this context, ten new hydrogen stations will see the light of day in Birmingham in the coming years, after the scheduled start-up next year of 120 buses that will run on this fuel.
– “Stuttering” –
At Adelan’s workshop in Birmingham, a typically English redbrick building in the middle of a residential area, employees test fuel cells. These are not intended for cars, but are designed to replace diesel generators.
The company’s CEO, Michaela Kendall, is overseeing the work. “It will take time” to really see the potential of hydrogen increase, according to her, because this market “is in its infancy.” She believes that hydrocarbons still have a bright future ahead of them.
Not least because Adelan’s fuel cell is designed to run on hydrogen, it can also run on hydrocarbon-based fuels, which are used more because “they’re easier to get at the moment,” explains Michaela Kendall. The company, she says, is remarkably self-sufficient in biofuels.
Professor Kendall’s car looks like a conventional gasoline vehicle, with a range of about 650 kilometres, but with one big difference: it only emits water vapour, the result of the recomposition of hydrogen with oxygen in the air, a reaction that produces electricity in the fuel cell.
The UK has set a 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in the country, but due to a lack of infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles, electric and plug-in hybrid cars are ahead: they have accounted for more than one in five new vehicles sold in the country in the first six months of the year.
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