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Supply of hydrogen is virtually limitless as it is the most abundant element in the universe. Yet on earth it must be extracted by splitting the hydrogen from the primary source such as fossil fuels. Hydrogen produced from nuclear power plants, renewable energy sources, or by splitting water through electrolysis result in a fuel with minimal environmental effects. And hydrogen fuel cells can be used for a wide range of applications in the residential, industrial and transport sectors. Despite these potentials, barriers related to storage and safety must be addressed. Reducing costs of production will also be needed. Policies and measures to support deployment of hydrogen include continued R&D for suitable materials and to address safety concerns; support for demonstration and pilot projects; fiscal, financial and regulatory measures; and developing international codes and standards to support commercial development.
The aims of the Implementing Agreement for a Programme of Research and Development on the Production and Utilisation of Hydrogen (Hydrogen IA) are to accelerate hydrogen implementation and widespread utilisation to optimise environmental protection; improve energy security; and promote economic development internationally while establishing it as a premier global resource for expertise. There are currently 23 Contracting Parties, including Iceland, Lithuania and two intergovernmental organisations.
Provided storage and safety issues can be addressed, the potential for hydrogen to replace traditional fossil fuels in the transport sector is considerable and the benefits to energy security and environmental protection would be great. However, due to the costs and complexities of building new supply infrastructure from the site of production to the site of consumption (i.e. petrol stations), other options need to be considered.
For these reasons, the Hydrogen IA set out to analyse ways in which hydrogen can be produced on the site of consumption using steam to ‘reform’ natural gas. The objective of a recent five-year Hydrogen IA study, Small-Scale Reformers for on-site Hydrogen Supply, was to work towards harmonisation of technology for on-site production of hydrogen from both fossil and renewable fuels and to explore challenges related to systems, markets and costs. Issues examined in the study include industrial harmonisation, remaining R&D challenges, safety, standards, emerging technologies, sustainability and resource issues (including bio-based fuels, combining carbon capture and storage with hydrogen production from fossil-based fuels, and new technologies), and cost calculations.
Fifteen companies (reformer suppliers and gas companies) and institutes in ten countries participated in the evaluations. Demonstration projects with on‑site production units at petrol stations are underway in Europe, Japan and the United States. By the end of 2011, 24 stations equipped with hydrogen reforming were operating in Germany. The study has contributed to developing a basis for safe and harmonised technology for on‑site reformers. The final report is expected to serve as a global market guide for on-site hydrogen reforming.
* Photo courtesy of the Fiedler Group, a Los Angeles alternative fuels design firm.
For more information: www.ieahia.org
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