Iceland, a model of environmental-friendliness, wants to further end its reliance on oil imports, by using hydrogen to power vehicles. The tiny island nation also plans to export hydrogen to Europe in the future.
Eco-friendly fun -- Icelanders frolick in a geothermal spa
Iceland may have a tiny population -- less than 300,000 people -- but it has two things in abundance: fish and above all clean energy.
On the volcanic island just below the Arctic Circle there is more water, power and geo-thermal heat than the Icelanders themselves can consume and that too at unbeatably low prices.
A view of the "Blue Lagoon" in Grindavik near Reykjavik. The 36 C warm, mineral containing water comes from the power station Svartsengi (background) to the lava field. The geothermal spa is known for its healthy effect.
The Nordic country already produces its electricity entirely with renewable energy. In addition, nine out of ten homes are heated with geo-thermal energy obtained from below the ground, creating a world record of sorts.
Hydrogen instead of imported oil
But the apparently immaculate energy balance sheet of the Icelanders is marred by two bitter facts: the more than 180,000 cars and over 2,000 buses on the island continue to run on imported oil, just as the 800 or so ships in the fishing fleet do.
But, now the environmentally-friendly Icelanders have hit on the idea of using hydrogen in future to operate ships, cars and buses. The hydrogen could be produced with electricity from renewable energies such as geo-thermal heat and water power.
The port of Reykjavik.
The consortium Icelandic New Energy, which is made up of, among other companies, DaimlerChrysler and Royal Dutch Shell, has set exactly that as its goal. The first visible signs of the scheduled hydrogen revolution are three public service buses and a hydrogen filling station on the outskirts of Reykyavik.
Much to be done
Jón Björn Skúlason, manager of Icelandic New Energy, says he's satisfied with the results so far, but stresses that much still remains to be done.
To enable more of his compatriots to benefit from hydrogen power in future, not only modern vehicles, but also a network of filling stations are required, he says.
"If you're thinking of providing all vehicles with hydrogen, you would probably require roughly 100 stations in Iceland."
But that is still a long way off. The Icelandic New Energy pioneers know they have to win over carmakers to the idea of producing hydrogen-operated engines – and that in large numbers.
The plans for the next few months are clearly defined. “Of course, the main steps are to have vehicles on the roads, and not just buses. That's our primary goal," said Skúlason. "At the same time we're going to try to get a maritime application going which means we want to set up a project where we would not just like to do research, but also actual demonstrations."
But it’s going to take quite a while before the Icelanders have equipped their first ship with hydrogen engines, as the technology is not yet available.
Exporting hydrogen to Europe
But, that hasn't stopped Skúlason from hatching much more ambitious plans for the distant future which would entail transporting hydrogen from Iceland to Europe.
"We've done a feasibility study of exporting hydrogen from Iceland to Europe," he said. "Of course Iceland will never be kind of the Kuwait of the North. Energy capabilities of Iceland would never be close to providing much except for a very small percentage of Europe with energy." Skúlason said. "We are quite convinced that the feasibility of exporting hydrogen will be there in the future."
But first of all, carmakers in Germany have to start building hydrogen-driven cars in sufficient numbers.
Despite all future visions, the aim remains clear: Iceland also wants to exploit its huge water power and geo-thermal resources to make itself independent of oil imports.