Norsk Hydro Prepared for Hydrogen Future

Published Dec 11, 2003
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In the White Paper presented by the Norwegian Ministry for Petroleum and Energy in November 2002 ambitions for a hydrogen future in Norway was outlined. Vice President Ivar Hexeberg in Norsk Hydro Energy has been waiting somewhat impatiently for this paper.

We are currently working to establish a project group together with several companies in Norway. We want to develop hydrogen for the transport sector,’ he says, adding that hydrogen has been found to be particularly well suited as an energy carrier for transport.

Norsk Hydro is already involved in several projects in other European countries, Iceland and Germany amongst others. They are building hydrogen filling stations in Hamburg and Rekjevik. So why is Norway lagging behind?

‘That is a good question,’ he says with a smile. ‘But there are no good answers. Except that there has probably been more political interest in developing hydrogen in other countries. The fact is that several other countries are way ahead of us.’

Talking about the main obstacles for using hydrogen as energy carrier in the transport sector, Hexeberg explains that there are now few practical problems with respect to the infrastructure. ‘But of course financing is a major obstacle. That is why we need the authorities to get involved in order to develop an infrastructure of hydrogen filling stations in Norway,’ he says. The technological challenges for using hydrogen and fuel cells in transportation are several, mainly regarding fuel cell costs and compact storage of hydrogen.

As Norsk Hydro is already involved in developing hydrogen infrastructure abroad, they will have lots of experience to bring with them in a future Norwegian project.

Time Schedule
‘What we will see are several years of testing projects,’ Hexeberg continues. ‘And we will probably also see fleets of hydrogen vehicles, for instance bus companies with a whole fleet of hydrogen fuelled buses.’ The Oslo based bus-company Stor-Oslo Lokaltrafikk, is one of the companies engaged in developing a hydrogen project.

‘If we manage to put together a project group during 2003, we might see some hydrogen filling stations in Norway in approximately three years,’ Hexeberg anticipates. But he underlines there will be several years of trial before an infrastructure is in place and hydrogen vehicles are produced in large series.

‘Car manufacturers are talking about 2010 as a year when they might have series of hydrogen vehicles in ordinary production.’

Daimler Chrysler is delivering buses to hydrogen projects in several European cities. But most major producers are developing vehicles with fuel cell technology, General Motors, Toyota amongst them.

‘As far as I know, BMW is the only producer which is not working on developing fuel cell technology for propulsion,’ Hexeberg says. ‘Instead they are developing a special ICE (internal combustion engine) – motor suitable for hydrogen and use small fuel cells for auxiliary power in the car.’

Hydrogen White Paper
In a White Paper presented in November 2002 the Norwegian government specifically outlines the development of a national hydrogen project in Norway, pointing out that we already have extensive technology to draw on.

‘Hydrogen could become one of the most important energy carriers in the future. Hydrogen can be produced both from fossil fuel and from renewable energy sources,’ the report says.

‘Energy policy challenges and technological developments open up opportunities for increased consumption of hydrogen. In many areas of Hydro, hydrogen is part of every day life and has been for 75 years, particularly in connection with the company’s ammonia production. We are well equipped to take part in the increased commitment to hydrogen indicated in the gas announcement from the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy,’ President of Norsk Hydro Energy Hilde Myrberg said following the presentation of the November White Paper.

Fuel Cell Market Forecasts
Independent market studies on fuel cells forecast average annual growth rates of 40-60% in fuel cell-propelled transport over the next decade. The European fuel cell vehicle market should reach €16.3 billion by 2020, and €52 billion by 2040. As for power plants and energy production, Europe and the US will need to replace and reinforce their energy generation capacity. This includes micro-generators powering home appliances and remote regions. However fuel cell marketing still has substantial technical and socio-economic barriers to overcome, such as the lack of hydrogen distribution infrastructures.

EU-supported Research
Hydro is part of a new European Union ‘high level group’ advising on hydrogen and fuel cells. Myrberg, recently attended the first meeting of the group, hosted by European Commission president Romano Prodi and Commission Vice President Loyola de Palacio, in charge of EU energy and transport policy.

The Fifth EU Research Framework Programme (FP5 1999-2002) has devoted €120 million to hydrogen and fuel cell research. In the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6 2003-2006), research on energy and transport will be undertaken under the thematic priority ‘Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems’ for which a total budget of €2,120 million has been earmarked. It is envisaged that the budget for research on fuel cells, including their applications and hydrogen technologies will be increased substantially compared with FP5. First calls for proposals will be published late in 2002, and projects will be launched by mid 2003.

The High Level Group
The High Level Group on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells is formed by senior representatives within the hydrogen, fuel cell and transport sector. The Group is an informal body with an advisory role. Its main objective will be to advise the Commission on determining the prospects for, and economic impact of, moving towards a sustainable energy economy based on hydrogen and electricity and introducing fuel cells as energy converters.

By mid 2003 the Group will present a paper outlining ideas for the joint European actions necessary for a vibrant fuel cell industry and a sustainable hydrogen energy economy. The report may be followed by a more detailed action plan, including a hydrogen and fuel cell strategic research agenda.

When introducing the High Level Group EU Commission President Romano Prodi said: ‘This is an important choice for Europe. Hydrogen technology will not only reduce our energy dependency and gas emissions; in the long run it will also change considerably our socio-economic model and create new opportunities for developing countries.’

‘I am looking for new and original ways to reduce the European Union’s dependence on oil while at the same time contributing to sustainable development. Hydrogen and fuel cells offer such a possibility and they can contribute significantly to our policy objective of replacing 20 percent of automotive fuel with alternative fuels by 2020. In addition, hydrogen brings important opportunities for the distribution of sustainable energy and for decentralised power generation,’ Commissioner Vice-President Loyola de Palacio added.

Hydrogen Facts

How can this technology be used in the short, medium and long term?
In the short term, hydrogen could be used in urban vehicles which would reduce emissions in city centres;
In the long term it could be used in combined heat/power generation, in industry and in every form of transport: in ships, trains and aeroplanes.

What are the research and technological requirements?
Researchers are helping to develop technologies to tap into this natural resource and generate hydrogen in mass quantities at cheaper prices so that it can compete with traditional energy sources.

There are three main systems that scientists are researching for inexpensive hydrogen generation, which all separate hydrogen from a ‘feedstock’, such as fossil fuel or water - but by very different means:

Hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels by a process known as ‘reforming’. This is extremely useful where stored hydrogen is not available but has to provide the power, for example, on a fuel cell-powered vehicle.

Cyanobacteria is an abundant single-celled organism which produces hydrogen metabolically. Since it works by synthesising water into hydrogen, the waste is emitted as water, which becomes food for the next metabolism.

Renewable Energy Sources:
By harnessing the renewable energy of the sun and wind, researchers can generate hydrogen by using power from photovoltaics (PVs), solar cells, or wind turbines to electrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen. In this way, hydrogen becomes an energy carrier - which transports the power from the generation site to another location to be used in a fuel cell. This is a zero-emissions way of producing hydrogen for a fuel cell.

As well as the technological developments in reformers, enzymes and renewable energy sources, other fuel-cell developments in the last few years are beginning to show that hydrogen can generate electricity.

In order to make this workable, production costs must be as low as those of conventional technologies.

Source: The EU Research web site at

For further information on EU hydrogen policy, visit

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