In Iceland, Hydrogen-Powered Buses Are Step Toward Oil-Free Economy

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From the land of Bjork and Sigur Ros comes yet more novel creativity for the rest of the world to admire and envy: Iceland is also a leader in the quest for energy efficiency. Already, nearly 70 percent of the country’s overall energy requirements are met by geothermal or hydro-electric power; transportation is the sole remaining culprit hooked on gas and oil. But with almost unlimited geothermal energy beneath its surface, the country has an official goal of making the country oil-free by shifting cars, buses, trucks and ships over to hydrogen by 2050. For now, the focus is on Reykjavik’s buses...
The world's first hydrogen filling station opened in Reykjavik way back in April 2003, and the city has been using hydrogen-powered buses since. At about $1.67 million apiece (about 3-4 times more than a typical diesel bus), these buses don’t come cheap; on the other hand, they can travel about 400 km on one tank.

The big drawback to hydrogen is that it continues to be very pricey to produce—to get energy from hydrogen, water must either be split into two Hs and an O, or hydrogen must be separated from natural gas or methane. Either way, it’s not cheap. Furthermore, splitting stuff up isn’t easy yet, and comes at an even dirtier price—burning oil to make hydrogen to run a bus actually produces more pollution than simply running the bus on oil. So now the goal is to make buses that would be twice as efficient as an internal combustion engine, thereby compensating for the inefficiency of producing hydrogen. And some critics worry that the white cloudlike vapor (it’s steam, essentially) that emits from hydrogen-fueled vehicles may make the air too cloudy, and could potentially reflect sunlight back to space or trap it, increasing global warming.

But places like Reykjavik (Barcelona, Chicago, Hamburg, London, Madrid, Stockholm, Beijing, and Perth have also tested out hydrogen buses) can be considered testing grounds for the technology—without trial, there can be no improvement. The beauty of Iceland is that the country can collect almost unlimited heat from hot springs that can be tapped for experiments. Granted, the rest of the world may not have that same geographical luck, but the lessons learned from Iceland’s trials could help the world transition to the energy of the future. ::Planet Ark (Reuters) [by MO]