Hydrogen farms promise limitless power in Wales

Jul 24, 2006 02:00 AM

Plans are under way to grow the fuel of the future in "hydrogen farms" in Wales. With the world starting to panic over rocketing temperatures and oil prices, hydrogen has a simple, seductive appeal. And Wales could be at the forefront of the hydrogen revolution, saving us from abandoning our cars or dimming the lights, it was claimed.
Hydrogen promises limitless energy with no pollution, drinkable water being the only emission from its use. But the barrier to a hydrogen economy is production because, to release hydrogen from water, an electric charge is necessary and most electricity is produced by fossil fuels.

But now the Carmarthenshire Energy Agency is embarking on a joint project with Ireland to produce hydrogen from trees in a series of farms in West Wales. The Wales and Ireland Rural Hydrogen Energy Project aims to release hydrogen contained in fast-growing willow trees.
Hydrogen from renewable resources like trees can be obtained by the use of microbes to break down the willow into methane and hydrogen gas. Or, alternatively, willow can be used to fuel electricity to produce hydrogen, the growing crops "paying back" the atmosphere for any carbon dioxide produced in electricity production. Another possibility includes the use of solar power to release hydrogen into its useful molecular form as a gas.

Guto Owen, manager of the Carmarthenshire Energy Agency, said, "Hydrogen is a clean, pollution-free form of energy which is emerging as a major player in combating climate change. It has been touted as the fuel of the future in replacing fossil fuels. Governments and companies around the world are investing heavily into research and development projects which can realise hydrogen's huge potential.”
"As countries which share similar characteristics in terms of their natural rural environments, Wales and Ireland are ideally placed to take full advantage of this potential. The opportunities are limitless and the countries which can develop significant hydrogen supplies will stand togain enormous economic, social and environmental benefits."

Dr Richard Dinsdale, of the University of Glamorgan, who is involved in the project, said, "The Hydrogen Research Unit at the University of Glamorgan conducts national and international leading research into sustainable hydrogen energy technologies.
"The Hydrogen Farm concept was identified as part of the Objective One-funded ‘Hydrogen Wales' project and it provides an ideal route for the development of research performed in Wales into technologies which can provide social and economic benefit to rural areas. It will also address national and international issues such as security of energy supply and global climate change."

The hydrogen would power cars and other vehicles through the use of fuel cells. There are hydrogen fuel cell motors already in operation in Canada, the USA and other countries and, notably, on London's RV1 bus route.
These fuel cells are not new. They were invented in 1839 by a Swansea lawyer, Sir William Robert Grove, who called his original device a "gas battery". It consisted of two platinum porous electrodes each enclosed in a glass cylinder. One glass cylinder contained hydrogen and the other oxygen.

The £ 170,000 pilot project to develop phase one of the Wales-Ireland partnership on hydrogen energy and develop a blueprint for the Hydrogen Farm will last until March 2008.
Phase two will involve constructing a viable demonstration facility for hydrogen production with commercial spin-offs.

Source: Western Mail
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