Science - May 1, 2013

At last: the hydrogen car

Hyundai presented the first hydrogen-powered car in the Netherlands on 15 April. The launch of the car was held in Arnhem, where the country's first hydrogen filling station is located.

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The South Korean car manufacturer hopes its hydrogen-fuelled cars will sell on a large scale in the Netherlands. 'This is a step forward, but the Netherlands has caught on late,' says Pieternel Claassen, hydrogen researcher at Food & Biobased Research. 'Within Europe, Germany is in the lead - it already has nine hydrogen filling stations. The hydrogen car has already been introduced in Scandinavia as well.'
Why drive on hydrogen?
'It is better for the environment. And its driving range is bigger than that of an electric car. In a hydrogen car, a fuel cell converts the hydrogen into electricity which drives an electric motor. In an electric car you need a heavy load of batteries to drive 60 kilometres, whereas you can drive 100 kilometres on one kilo of hydrogen. It is like LPG. It takes four minutes to fill the tank and then you can go 500 kilometres. That is because the conversion of hydrogen to electricity is highly efficient.'
Where does the energy come from?
'You can produce it from natural gas. Then the car is still producing CO2 indirectly but you save a lot of energy compared with a petrol engine. I am doing research on the production of hydrogen from biomass: waste like potato peel, beet pulp, straw and verge cuttings. Our aim for 2014 is to produce between one and ten kilos of hydrogen a day.'
But you can't start a filling station with that amount.
'It is new and it is not easy. The process is based on that of biogas production but we use special bacteria that convert the waste into hydrogen and other compounds at a high temperature. Then you have to fish the hydrogen out of the mix. You need new technology to do that.'
Could hydrogen compete with petrol in terms of cost price?
'The price is not clear at the moment. Large-scale production of hydrogen from natural gas costs two euros per kilo. In our biomass project we have now reached a price of 20 euros per kilo and we hope to bring that down to 6 euros per kilo. But it is still in its infancy.' 

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