NHA Invited to Present at IQPC Fuel Cells Infrastructure Conference

by Karen Miller, Program Director, National Hydrogen Association
The International Quality and Productivity Centre, Ltd. (IQPC) held a conference on infrastructure issues relating to fuel cells on 6-7 December 1999. The NHA was invited to present “Developing International Codes and Standards for the Safe Production, Storage, and Use of Hydrogen.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this conference. It seems that there are more conferences on fuel cells going on than anyone can possibly attend, and this one was being organized by a professional conference team from London rather than the industry experts. Also, the cost to attend was unusually high for a two-day conference: $1,495 without the post-conference workshop. As an invited speaker, registration fees were waived, which may have accounted for the high fees for the remaining attendees.

The conference focused on infrastructure issues for methanol and hydrogen, with Sandy Thomas of Directed Technologies setting the tone by presenting “A Comparison of the Infrastructure for the Three Fuels for Fuel Cell Vehicles: Hydrogen, Methanol, and Gasoline.”

The remainder of the first day focused on methanol issues. Day two focused on the hydrogen issues. Brett Williams of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Hypercar Center described “A Strategy for the Hydrogen Transition.” I then introduced the group to the NHA and our core activities. I discussed the need for international codes and standards to assure safety for hydrogen systems and components, and presented the ongoing work of the NHA in this area. I emphasized the need for information sharing to avoid duplication of effort and to ensure that hydrogen safety is adequately considered in standards being developed nationally and internationally. (For more information on NHA C&S activities, see the C&S Update section on the NHA website.)

Next, Jón Björn Skúlason, General Manager of Icelandic New Energy, Ltd., described as a case study the ongoing effort in Iceland to use hydrogen for fuel cells. As many of you know, Iceland is able to use geothermal energy and hydropower for most of its energy needs. By converting some of this renewable energy to hydrogen, Iceland will be able to boast a renewable transportation energy economy as well.

There are 2,000 tons of hydrogen produced annually in Iceland. It could be used as is, or combined with waste CO and CO2 for methanol production to be used in fuel cells and the vast fishing fleet market. Reduction of greenhouse gases in Iceland will allow Iceland to offer international businesses opportunities to site polluting business in Iceland. The CO and CO2 derived from these businesses could then be used in methanol production. Iceland is anticipating its first hydrogen buses in 2002. In the meantime, they are studying infrastructure issues for fueling. Complete transformation of Iceland to a hydrogen economy is expected in 2030-2040.

For more exciting news on Iceland’s initiative, be sure to attend the 11th Annual U.S. Hydrogen Meeting 29 February-2 March in Vienna, Virginia, U.S.A. The NHA is working with the Icelandic Embassy to present the latest policy and technical information on this very important project. For more information, check out the conference information on the NHA website.

Raj Rajagopolan of Shell Hydrogen then presented “Tackling the Challenges Faced by Hydrogen as the Fuel for Fuel Cells.” He pointed out that the hydrogen future would happen sooner if a safe, economical solution for onboard hydrogen storage were available. There is some concern that without this, the hydrogen economy may be several decades away. He then voiced a sentiment that was also echoed by a number of participants from the energy supply sector as well as automotive manufacturing sector: “Nobody knows who will decide what fuel we will use in the future!”

Participants agreed that an infrastructure change is an expensive proposition. Nobody wants to do it twice. Both energy and automotive companies agree that hydrogen is the fuel for the long term, but there is disagreement about both the fuel and the timeframe for the short term. Will the onboard storage issue be solved in time to switch directly from gasoline to hydrogen, or will a methanol transition be required? Time will tell.

Hydrogen production is available today, from fossil fuels or electrolysis. Paul Scott and Andrew Stuart of Stuart Energy presented the Stuart Hydrogen Fuel Appliance, showing attendees that we do not have to wait for hydrogen refueling stations.

Although it was a small conference, the infrastructure debate is heating up, and I found this conference worthwhile. There was one disappointment, however. Although the meeting was held in Chicago [Illinois, U.S.A.], there were no arrangements to see one of the three Chicago Transit Authority hydrogen buses running in normal service, nor was a CTA representative on the agenda. Chris Lythgo of Coast Mountain Bus Company (formerly BC Transit) discussed progress of the Vancouver [B.C., Canada] bus project, which uses Ballard buses and Stuart Energy Personal Fuel Appliance utilizing electrolysis. This differs from the Chicago bus operation, which uses stored liquid hydrogen. Many attendees took a side trip to see the CTA buses. I was content to see them operating in the streets of Chicago as I finished up my Christmas shopping.

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