With confirmation that the congestion charge has done very little to improve London’s Co2 output, what is the future of green transport? And will bicycle dealers have competition in winning over those deserting their cars? Thomas Bennet of Intelligent Energy tells us of his zero emissions vision...

CUSTOMER SERVICE: Hydrogen to cut city pollution?

MOST of us who’ve biked through the centre of London knows that’s it’s by far the most effective way to traverse the city, speeding past lines of traffic, congestion charges or parking spaces. The downside? Sit behind a bus or truck for a few seconds and you’ll know. The air quality in cities everywhere is still being diminished by vehicles burning fossil fuels and churning out their by-products, all while crawling through never-ending congestion. For those of us who favour two wheels, it’s clear that this can’t be the best way to get around town.
At Intelligent Energy we’ve taken decades of scientific innovation and shown the way forward in clean transport. Our fuel cells use hydrogen to generate energy for any number of applications, of which transport is just one, and the only product is water vapour. Imagine the impact on the streets of our towns and cities if exhausts pumped steam into the air instead of the current mix of chemicals and carbon dioxide. Not only that, but this technology can benefit the economy too, reducing our dependence on dwindling supplies of expensive oil. Our philosophy is, let’s use oil only when it’s the most productive option, and where it’s expensive and dirty; try using alternatives that are cleaner and thus more friendly to city dwellers and commuters.

We work with a range of partners to prove what a robust option hydrogen can be. Among the products we’ve developed in the last few years are two motorcycles – our own ENV (emissions neutral vehicle) and the Crosscage, in partnership with Suzuki – that promise to give the streets a new complexion. The fuel cell provides power in a different manner to the internal combustion engine, so acceleration is quick. The technology, of course, will not be limited to motorcycles. Hopefully there will come a day when your shops delivery vehicle runs on clean, renewable fuel.
In brief, a fuel cell is a device that takes in hydrogen and oxygen from the air and produces an electric current that can be used for just about anything that requires steady power supply. Recently, we’ve integrated them into a light aircraft, powering the world’s first ever manned fuel cell flights in collaboration with Boeing. Fuel cells also promise to provide heat and power for offices and homes, and we recently launched a combined heat and power (CHP) joint venture to make this more widely available, in a partnership with Scottish & Southern Energy. Add to that our work to provide clean power systems for delivery vehicles, and our part in a project to put a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell taxis on the streets of London in time for the 2012 Olympics, and it’s clear that this technology has huge potential to transform the way we live in the future.

What we’ve done with our fuel cell design is to make it simple and scalable, built with sturdy components so that the size of the fuel cell stack can be adjusted depending on the range of power that’s needed for a particular project. This means that the days of this space age technology (it was used to power the Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and ‘70s) being out of the reach of the general public are receding into the past. The more we prove how reliable this technology is, and the more uses we put it to, the more feasible and affordable it promises to become. After all, the goal is to enable hydrogen fuel cells to compete with gas guzzlers and other relics of the old fossil fuel based economy in a new era of energy diversity.
Naturally, it will take time to introduce these vehicles to the general public, but we feel that we can prove their worth in short order. They’re quiet, efficient, and clean and if the reaction that we have so far is anything to go by, they should capture the imagination when they hit the roads in the next few years. And they’re safe too – it’s true that a fuel cell needs a container of hydrogen gas to supply energy for it, but advances in leak-proof tanks and hydrogen storage techniques mean that hydrogen is no more of a danger than petrol if it’s treated properly.

Another issue that is constantly raised when I talk about the potential of this technology is the availability of hydrogen – where are the hydrogen filling stations? When cars were invented, there were no petrol stations, and similarly we’re working to gradually introduce a hydrogen infrastructure to support these pilot projects that we’ve started to roll out.
The first fleets will be based near to supplies of fuel, and as the technology grows and gains in popularity, we’ll increase the availability in response to demand. Let’s face it, these are early days for hydrogen fuel cells. When people see what they’re capable of, we’re confident that they’ll want to see more, and we’ll be ready to make the streets a little bit cleaner for everyone.

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