Europe's high hopes for hydrogen

Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL

One hundred hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are this week hitting the roads of the UK, Germany and France as part of one the most ambitious real-world tests of hydrogen power in European history.

Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME) is a continent-wide €170 million project involving many of Europe's biggest car makers and backed by the European Commission. Its aim is to understand how hydrogen fuel cell technology can help Europe move away from fossil fuels and cut vehicle emissions.

"To start the transition to a zero-emission transportation system it is essential to put the latest technology in drivers' hands and use the hydrogen demand created to develop and test the refuelling networks, which are required to support these vehicles," said Ben Madden, Element Energy, Overall Coordinator of the H2ME projects.

The initial fleet is made up of 60 Renault Kangoo electric vans converted by French company Symbio so that their batteries are powered by fuel cell. And while they're in use in the UK and France, 40 Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell cars are taking to German roads.

Despite the technological strides being made in the area of plug-in electric mobility, hydrogen is very much on most countries' agendas as a green fuel for the future.

A car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell can travel further than any current plug-in electric vehicle and it can be refuelled in as little as three minutes. Furthermore as the energy to power the motor is created by hydrogen reacting with oxygen, the only waste product is water vapor.

However, most hydrogen for use in fuel cell applications is currently created by burning natural gas, which is a fossil fuel.

Even if more environmentally friendly ways of creating the gas can be found, hydrogen is still expensive to transport and there is very little current infrastructure in terms of refuelling stations. Electric vehicle charging networks are also in their nascent stage, but charging points need only be wired into the existing grid system in order to work.

"The big breakthrough of electric mobility with fuel cell depends on more than just the factor ‘car': it is ultimately the combination of an attractive product offer, infrastructure, services, and not least, public support. The last hurdles we will have to overcome in intensive cross-industry and cross-border teamwork -- H2ME is a very good example of it," said Dr Georg Frank, Senior Manager Fuel Cell Advanced Engineering and H2-Infrastructure at Daimler AG.

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