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Hydrogen Explained

Crude oil spiked to a six month high today as fears grew of a western attack on Syria and continued instability in the Middle East. Brent crude traded above $117 a barrel amid growing tensions about fuel security. Many readers will remember that past Middle East conflicts have sent prices soaring.
Perhaps it is little wonder then that governments are scrambling for alternative fuel sources in a desperate bid to avoid history repeating itself. It certainly seems to support George Osborne's poorly planned idea to explore potential fracking sites in the middle of rural countryside communities. At first it would appear to be an ideal solution - cheap UK gas on tap, but after closer inspection it quickly falls down. Each fractured well requires approximately 4 million gallons of water (15,000 cubic metres), putting a strain on the UK's water infrastructure.
Yet amid all of the smoke and guns the role of renewable energy appears to have been forgotten. Renewable energy sources can easily be coupled with Hydrogen storage and require far less water (in fact the water can actually be recovered from fuel cells when converting back to electricity).

Ed Davey, MPEdward Davey is the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the UK. In an interview with Andrew Neil on the BBC Sunday Politics show (aired on the 14th July) he revealed that he has considered hydrogen as a potential energy storage medium for wind farms.

In response to a criticism by Andrew Neil regarding the money spent on wind farms he states:

"We are developing Energy Storage technologies. Not just batteries - we're looking at water technology, we're looking at hydrogen technology, so we can store wind power when it's not needed on the grid."

"The vast majority of climate change scientists believe that climate change is happening and that man made activity is causing it"

This follows on from the speech he made on the 4th June seeking to push the government to commit to all electricity being generated from low carbon sources such as wind and nuclear by 2030. This was something that was previously snubbed by the chancellor George Osborne, with any commitment delayed until after the election in 2016. However, the good news is that the draft Electricity Market Reform Delivery Plan is expected to lead to renewable energy contributing 30% to the UK’s power mix in 2020. This will put the UK one step ahead in the global race to develop clean technologies, and will support up to 250,000 jobs across the energy sector.

“The new support mechanism we are introducing for renewables will make it cheaper to deliver low-carbon generation by around £5 billion up to 2030."

Ed Davey has an interesting background as his "strong views on the environment were probably what pushed [him] towards becoming politically active". This makes his position in the Department for Energy and Climate change very well suited. You can read more about him on his homepage here.

The Carbon Trust has launched an online tool called "Empower", designed to help employees reduce their carbon footprint at work. Whilst this isn't strictly a hydrogen related topic I thought it was worth mentioning as we are all ultimately aiming for a cleaner, low carbon future.

Empower Web Tool


The tool itself has been written as a flash animation and allows you to navigate around a virtual office. Along the way there are lots of information points which you can click on to gather ideas for how you can save energy. At the end of the tour any information that you have entered is summarised and used to produce a personal action plan. Additionally, the tool also calculates how many kilograms of CO2 emissions that your personal action plan could save per year.

Empower main page

I think that this is a brilliant tool because it is simple, concise and user friendly. It helps people to understand how much everyday actions can impact on carbon emissions. Well worth a visit: http://www.carbontrust.co.uk/cut-carbon-reduce-costs/products-services/web-tools/empower/Pages/empower-your-employees.aspx

An analysis of 2009 emissions data in the Nature Geoscience journal has revealed that emissions from fossil fuels only dropped by 1.3% in the last year. This has dissapointed some environmental campaigners as it was hoped the drop would be greater during a period of global recession.

The journal also predicted that emissions are likely to continue rising by 3% a year again unless further action is taken. The biggest challenge of reducing this figure is seen to be the separation of economic growth from carbon emissions. This is most applicable to developing nations where there is a hesitance to spend new found wealth on eco-friendly technologies as it will slow down financial growth.

These thoughts were echoed by UK climate minister Greg Barker, who questioned "whether a transition to a low-carbon economy is compatible with continued economic growth - and no-one knows the answer, because no country has made the transition yet".

It appears that we are somewhat stuck in the chicken and egg situation again. In these financially fragile times, few are willing to take a chance adopting new technologies because they cannot afford for them to fail. This is reflected by the half-baked approach currently taken in some countries' climate policies. For example, in the UK electric vehicles continue to be pursued as the saviour to the environment, despite their limited range and battery waste disposal issues. The only reason for their continued adoption is that the technology is seen as being more affordable and lower risk than the alternatives.

Sadly, hydrogen is one of the other alternatives which appears to have been forgotten. This is notable by it's absence from the Department of Energy and Climate Changes's 29 page November 2010 plan. One can only hope that important carbon-saving opportunities do not continue to get missed because of the rush to patch up the nations finances.

Extract from the press release found here:


Rt Hon David Blunkett, MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, has taken a tour of ITM Power, the business in his constituency at the cuttingedge of innovative technological developments aimed at reducing carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

Mr Blunkett said: “I have promised to make representations to both the Energy and Climate Change Secretary and the Transport Secretary about what I have seen at ITM Power. “It is crucial that companies such as ITM Power receive support for their innovative work, at a time when both of these government departments are looking to maintain some kind of commitment to the reduction of carbon emissions, whilst at the same time engaging in draconian cuts to investment.”