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Hydrogen Buses In Iceland 465

Posted by samzenpus
from the clean-air dept.
dapyx writes "As part of the shift away from the fossil fuels, Iceland began its switch to hydrogen-powered buses, which are now used on the streets of the capital, Reykjavik. About 70 percent of Iceland's energy is already met by green power. Iceland plans to become the first oil-free country by 2050."
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Hydrogen Buses In Iceland

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  • by GrouchoMarx (153170) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:43PM (#11342897) Homepage
    Honest question here. Isn't one of the best sources of hydrogen for such things hydrocarbons? Which are plentiful in, you guessed it, oil? Breaking water is not very efficient and requires electricity in the first place. So how does a "hydrogen economy" free us from dependence on oil? Where does the hydrogen come from that it's so clean?

    Not intended as a troll, honest question.
    • by temojen (678985) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:45PM (#11342933) Journal
      Electrolysis of water, powered by geothermal energy.
      • by DaHat (247651) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:57PM (#11343124) Homepage
        Yours is the first post I have seen to mention the key point.

        For those not in the know: Iceland is blessed with an abundance of geo-thermal energy which dramatically lowers their electricity and heating costs.
        • Which makes me wonder: Since they can generate the hydrogen super cheap and other countries can't, why can't they export it?

          That would be a good source of revenue.
          • by Surt (22457)
            Hydrogen is hard to ship and to store. Those are two of the main sticking points preventing rapid adoption of hydrogen for energy storage.
            • Much harder than natural gas?
              • Actually, I think I recall that containing H2 IS a lot harder than containing natural gas. Something about the fact that a pair of H's is a lot smaller than a few H's hanging off of some C's, and thus the H2's tend to migrate through the container walls. H2 also has to be pretty cold to get liquified, IIRC.

                However, I'm an EE not a ChemE. I could be mistaken.
                • Absolute Zero: 0 Kelvin
                  Freezing point of Hydrogen: 13.97 Kelvin
                  Boiling point of Hydrogen: 20.41 Kelvin
                  Mean surface temp of Pluto: 53 Kelvin
                  Freezing point of Water: 273.16 Kelvin
                  Boiling point of Water: 373.16 Kelvin

                  How much energy do you think it would take to keep Hydrogen in that six and a half degree window so that it is liquified for transport but doesn't freeze and break the tanker in half? Then relate to that to the (rather low) energy value of the Hydrogen. Is it worth it?
              • Insanely harder than Natural Gas. And even Natural Gas is impossible to ship between continents in any serious volume (the load from an LNG tanker would barely keep the lights on in any serious size city for a few days, weeks if everyone was an energy miser).

                If you have a source of carbon dioxide handy, you could just convert the hydrogen to methane (2H2 + CO2 = CH4 + O2) and just have the end users burn the methane in an internal combustion engine instead. Or use steam reformation to re-release the CO
              • Yes, much harder than natural gas.
          • That's ok, they'll just export their Kyoto treaty credits and make a fortune. They'll be the Kuwait of kyoto treaty credits.

            That would be a better source of revenue. Icelanders got made.
    • So how does a "hydrogen economy" free us from dependence on oil?

      It doesn't. It simply centralizes it. Think of hydrogen fuel cells as good batteries.

      • /fISo how does a "hydrogen economy" free us from dependence on oil?

        It doesn't. It simply centralizes it. Think of hydrogen fuel cells as good batteries./fI

        Only if you generate your electricty by burning hydrocarbons. Iceland does not.

    • by gl4ss (559668)
      iceland has lots of thermal energy for effectively "free".

      elsewhere, you got this 'nukularrrr' reaction that you can use to create power to break down that water. but don't tell the ecomaniacs, they wouldn't want you to save the earth.

      (honestly, that's just about the only REALISTICAL option for breaking water down to hydrogen on big enough scale. hydrogen is just a way to store energy in this case and the energy HAS to come from somewhere, and the 'eco' sources are not that plentiful or viable to be used
    • The 'hydrogen economy' is ideally built on fusion/wind/solar/geothermal (clean) power sources. The hydrogen is just a storage medium (battery) for the power that has been generated in some other way.

      However, even if you use oil/coal to generate it, generating power at centralized facilities and distributing clean hydrogen enables efficiencies of scale and superior disposal methods for your ugly by-products, so it can still be a big win.
    • by aldoman (670791)
      Electrolysis is VERY efficient. Try doing it sometime. Get a 9V battery and a cup of water. Connect them up.

      As you will notice, you'll have hydrogen bubbling and virtually NO heat. Heat is the waste product here. There is no heat, so there is no waste (more or less).

      What you are referring to is the fact that it's a very energy-expensive process. But so is electrolysis in aluminium - the price of which is around 90% of the cost of the electricity - yet tonnes upon tonnes are made. The people that discovere
    • Hydrogen can also be had from ethanol, which can in turn be produced the good old fashioned way: a little yeast, a little hops, a little barley, etc. It's still cheaper to make ethanol from fossil fuels, though, and reform it. I think that the current process of reforming methanol brings hydrogen power down to internal combustion levels of efficiency and still uses petroleum...
    • by barawn (25691)
      Note: all fuels are just batteries. They've got stored energy which was built up by some process - in the case of fossil fuels, it's solar energy from a long, long time ago, combined with gravitational potential energy (from being squished under things).

      Isn't one of the best sources of hydrogen for such things hydrocarbons?

      Hydrocarbons have hydrogen that's easy to liberate - that is, you'll get more energy out of burning hydrogen than by separating it. You get less energy than you would by just burning
    • The sun... All we have to do is modify one of the shuttles with regenerative-multi-vector-ablative-reverse-the-po l arity shielding and go get some, there's plenty up there.

      But, in all seriousness, solar power to run electrolysis of water

      285 KJ per mol of water.
      1370 W m^-2 at the upper atmosphere, since I have NO IDEA WHATSOEVER how much is absorbed by the atmosphere, I'm going to knock 90% off for the value on the surface, 137 W m^-2. Halve it (for the fact that the extreme north doesn't really fac
    • Honest question here. Isn't one of the best sources of hydrogen for such things hydrocarbons?

      Yes, but it's not the only source.

      Which are plentiful in, you guessed it, oil?

      Also vegetable oils.

      Breaking water is not very efficient and requires electricity in the first place. So how does a "hydrogen economy" free us from dependence on oil?

      Because you can use any energy source to make hydrogen.

  • Totally oil free? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SpamSlapper (162584) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:44PM (#11342909)
    "Iceland plans to become the first oil-free country by 2050." Wow. That's impressive. So they're not going to use any products made from plastic, or oil-based paints, lubricants, etc?
    • Yeah you should see their seal skin case mods. And their ICs encased in whale blubber. And everything at the grocery store comes in dried gourds .....
    • "Iceland plans to become the first oil-free country by 2050." Wow. That's impressive. So they're not going to use any products made from plastic, or oil-based paints, lubricants, etc?

      If we stopped burning oil, it could then be more slowly used to provide plastics for millenia to come - without releasing very much CO2..

      By the way it would also be possible to synthesise Hydrocarbons - although currently this would be very expensive..
    • Or have any airlines or fishing boats or ships. It IS possible to power aircraft with LH2 but the real problem is that it is not very energey dense. Not to mention it has to be kept very cold.
    • Re:Totally oil free? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jonbrewer (11894) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @10:00PM (#11343806) Homepage
      "Iceland plans to become the first oil-free country by 2050." Wow. That's impressive. So they're not going to use any products made from plastic, or oil-based paints, lubricants, etc?

      By 2050, I'd expect so. Plenty of plastics, paints, and lubricants made from biomass today.

      http://www.google.com/search?q=soy+plastic [google.com]

      Now whether using soy-based plastic is actually more efficient than using oil-based plastic is a different story, but oil has all sorts of political/social/economic inefficiencies that just don't show up in the base cost of production.
  • Oil free? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by agm (467017) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:45PM (#11342934)
    I predict we will all be oil free by 2050 - because there won't be any left! Well, not the kind that gets sucked out of the ground at least.
  • Progress (Score:2, Insightful)

    Ah, finally. All these years of speculation, the United Nations, and treaties is resulting in something.

    Of course, the U.S. doesn't approve of this, as we reject the Kyoto Treaty.
  • by Class Act Dynamo (802223) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:46PM (#11342946) Homepage
    First the robots will win the World Cup [slashdot.org] then Iceland will become oil free. 2050 will be marked down for ages as a year of great change and upheaval.
  • Why?

    Thanks to Iceland being basically one Giant Volcano, they've lots of Free Geothermal energy to make electricity and (bonus bell rings) it's surrounded by water. Put the two together and bingo: hydrogen.

    It's going to be funny to see the Icelanders, who are already an incredibly literate and well educated people, will do with all the loot.

    Personally, I look forward to our new Viking Overlords.

    RS

  • Iceland plans to become the first oil-free country by 2050.

    Best of luck to them: lots of people out there are saying that we're going to reach peak oil (the point at which supply of oil can no longer meet demand) much sooner - in which case, Iceland and, well, every other country won't have any choice but to be almost entirely oil free by 2050.

    If only every country was at least this forward thinking and we didn't all take energy for granted.

    Here's a few references: 1 [oilcrash.com] 2 [oilcrisis.org] 3 [peakoil.net] 4 [dieoff.org] 5 [after-oil.co.uk] or just Google for peak oil [google.co.uk].
  • Geothermal is useful (Score:3, Informative)

    by Coryoth (254751) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:49PM (#11342998) Homepage Journal
    It's the geothermal power that Iceland has in abundance that's a big help here. There's absolutely no shortage of it available. I guess the key is that Iceland has made full use of it for their energy needs. Not all countries have it quite so easy with readily available energy sources, making the 70% of energy needs from green power a little harder to attain. Then again, a few steps in the direction of energy efficiency could actually make significant impact in some of the countries guilty of rather conspicuous consumption when it comes to energy (not pointing any fingers or anything...)

    It is good to see countries taking positive steps though: if you have a surfeit of electrical power readily available, why not make the move to hydrogen powered transport? Hopefully a few other countries that are naturally well stocked in clean electricity generation (eg. those with a good supply of, for example, hydroelectric power) can make similar moves. The road ahead looks like it will be an interesting one.

    Jedidiah.
  • Where does the Hydrogen come from? Electrolysis. Where does the power to do that come from? In Iceland, it's geothermal. The US doesn't have nearly enough geothermal / solar / wind / whatever deployed to have similar results. Good for Iceland, but don't get your hopes up in the US.
    • Well let's face if if the US hangs on and stays with dirty power sources while the rest of the world converts, they'll have the highest energy costs in the world. Sooner or later we WILL run out of oil.
  • Err .... (Score:4, Funny)

    by taniwha (70410) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:50PM (#11343015) Homepage Journal
    wont this leave the streets full of exhaust (ice) in the middle of winter ...?
    • Iceland has very mild winters, thanks to the northatlantic conveyer.

      Now, if the melting of the ice stops it, then things could turn ugly for them. But so will for Britain and most of Northern Europe.
    • Re:Err .... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by balster neb (645686)
      I got to ride on a Hydrogen bus in Perth, Australia recently. Even though it was a warm afternoon, there was a considerable amount of visible vapour trailing from the back.

      I was wondering, if a large number of vehicles on the road are hydrogen fuel cell powered, won't there be a big problem of the vapour affecting visibility for drivers? I wonder how that will be dealt with.

      Just a thought.
  • by Camel Pilot (78781) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:51PM (#11343018) Homepage Journal
    Replacing foriegn oil imports is vital to continued economic growth and ensuring security for any nation or society. A country would be foolish to place their bets on a resource that is dwindling and susceptible to manipulation by foreign interests. The good news is that it is mearly a technical problem but the lead time requires planning and foresight - which in some unnamed countries is sadly lacking.

    Anyone interested this topic should checkout the Rocky Mountain Institute [rmi.org] and read up on the ideas of Amory Lovins.
  • According to the article - "some scientists say the atmosphere might simply become too cloudy in a hydrogen economy, emitting vast amounts of water vapor" I have never heard this before as a reason not to to use hydrogen. Surely any combustion engine will produce water vapor - does Hydrogen produse more than gasoline ?
    • It looks very much like a bit of a lame counter-argument - I doubt there is any real evidence that the scale of threat is comparable to the danger posed by CO2.

      Burning Hydrocarbons does indeed produce H20 - but part of the reaction is generation of CO2 so it is not as much as burning Hydrogen does, admittedly.
    • Yes, but not significantly.

      At worst it might rain one more day out of the entire year.

      But the rain would be clean, because there would be no pollution.

  • This is a big deal. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Baldrson (78598) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:58PM (#11343132) Homepage Journal
    With current technology, burning oil to make hydrogen to run a bus produces more pollution than simply running the bus on oil. Iceland sees itself as a testing ground, where almost unlimited heat from hot springs can be tapped for experiments.

    This is a big deal folks. Geothermal is quite abundant [doe.gov] but it is relatively low grade energy. If you can get drilling costs down and figure out how to use the low grade energy along the lines the Icelanders are doing, you can not only resolve most subsistence energy problems, you can localize most food production for consumption in colder climates with articficial hot springs [jardhitafelag.is] just as the Icelanders are doing.

  • Just in time for the swearing in of President Björk.
  • The article implies that Iceland is switching to hydrogen and geothermal due to all the environmental reasons. This simply isn't the case. Iceland is switching away from fossil fuels as they have none. The move away from oil is an economic decision. Oil is very expensive in Iceland as it is all imported. By contrast geothermal is practically free. Watch for Iceland to become a major exporter of hydrogen.
    • Indeed. Hydrogen powered buses in Reykjavik are like gasoline powered buses in Riyadh: the fuel is right there, so why not burn it? I'm waiting for standard vehicles that can run off of alcohol ... surely there's enough land in America to grow potatoes and mix up moonshine to run all the cars ...
  • Iceland plans to become the first oil-free country by 2050.

    5 bucks says we invade iceland next year because that's where all the terrorist hang out.
  • Very Small Country (Score:5, Informative)

    by FrankDrebin (238464) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @09:05PM (#11343216) Homepage

    While I commend the notion, Iceland has a unique feature not mentioned in the article -- an extremely small population. According to the CIA [cia.gov] (spare the check-your-facts comments, thanks), it is currently less than 300,000 people.

    To put that into perspective, there are over 1200 CITIES [mongabay.com] in the world with more that 300,000 people. Seriously, more people live in Toledo than all of Iceland. As far as the Hydrogen economy goes, it's a start, but such a very small start. By 2050 I sure hope we're further along worldwide.

    • Looks decieve... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Savage-Rabbit (308260)
      While I commend the notion, Iceland has a unique feature not mentioned in the article -- an extremely small population. According to the CIA (spare the check-your-facts comments, thanks), it is currently less than 300,000 people.

      Those 300.000 people also operate one of the biggest and most modern fishing fleets on the planet. In view of that fact being oil free by 2050 becomes a bit more challenging. Running cars on alternative fuels is one thing but extending that to deep sea trawlers and bulk cargo carr
  • by Boccaccio (762644) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @09:08PM (#11343240)
    You'd think they would be the first to welcome a bit of global warming too wouldn't you?
  • I'll have to go look up Norsk Hydro to learn anything [assuming there is anything new to learn] The sloppiness:
    1. talk of oil independence as if oil is only a fuel and not a lubricant...or are Icelanders also going to eliminate friction in some miraculous way
    2. Vikings? What are they going to do, turn a boatload of berserkers loose to capture Iowa and demand tribute be paid in soybean oil?
    3. zero technical content as to where they get energy from ... how is geothermal used?, what/how does Norsk Hydro do to cr
  • I believe there is a Canadian company called Ballard (they do fuel cells for auto makers) that had some demo hydrogen buses deployed, including in British Columbia, west coast Canada. Anyone ever seen one of those?
  • Well, considering the amount of geological activity around Iceland, I suppose they could become ice free by 2050 fairly easily if there's any major eruptions in 2049...

    Seriously, I wish them the best of luck, and I think that a showcase is always a useful thing. But I suspect that it will be better to see something like this start to show up in China even as a small percentage than to have an Iceland with 100% non-polluting energy reliant.

    ---

    I've been told that [blogspot.com] before...

  • by NoNeeeed (157503) <`slash' `at' `paulleader.co.uk'> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @10:02PM (#11343838) Homepage
    Sometimes I really wonder about /.

    So far half the high rated comments have been either, "hydrogen isn't a fuel, it's an energy store", or "huh, how will they survive without plastic/lubricants etc".

    It's normally dangerous to generalise about /. contributors, but one thing that seems to be consistant is the over-riding negativity of the people here. People set noble aims (e.g. stop using oil) and all the armchair whingers can do is complain that it isn't a perfect solution, and it isn't here now; or in the case of anything Mac "I want it twice as powerful, free, and to have a time-machine built in, and it should run Linux". Some people just never seem to be satisfied.

    Hydrogen
    ---------
    No, hydrogen is not a fuel. Yes it is a storage medium. But more importantly it is an energy *transmission* system. It allows you to generate energy in one place, and then use it somewhere else. Ideally we would just send electricity down the power lines and store it in batteries in our cars, but until someone makes some serious improvements in the energy density of batteries, that isn't going to happen, and hydrogen remains one of the best alternatives.

    Yes you can use *dirty* methods of generation to generate the electricity you use to make the hydrogen, but at least you have the option of using clean methods where they are available. You can use what is appropriate. The Icelandics are using Geothermal, good for them. Until you take that step and move to using hydrogen, you don't have a choice over clean or dirty, you only have oil (for cars that is).

    "Green" Generation
    ----------------
    Another prime one for the "but I want it perfect and now, and with a pony" crowd. Every time someone mentions a method of power generation like wind, solar, or tidal, someone will go "but that won't work where I am so it's no good and we should just carry on using coal". I live in the UK, and lets face it, we are never going to get much of our power from the sun, but there is work going into building an increasing number of wind farms and experiments with tidal systems, because that is what we have. Most places have something they can use to generate power, the Icelandics are just lucky that they have so much. The Aussies have loads of sun, and Colorado (right state?) gets most of its power from hydro. You use what you have as the tech comes available.

    Plastics
    ------
    Stop being so unimaginative. There is absolutly no requirement to use oil in the production of construction materials. There are huge numbers of people and companies working on plant based alternatives. In fact the car industry has already started to use some of these for certain components. We can't produce all the materials we need yet, but we are getting better, and one by one the challanges are being overcome; science just tends to take a little while.

    The point (yes, there really is a point) is that all these things move us gradually towards a (slightly) better world. They might not get us there right away, but it's one step closer, and if all the whingers on /. and crappy TV comment show got off their arses and did something we might get there a little quicker.

    Another quick rant while I'm at it - Global Warming
    Everytime anything like this comes up on /., someone will go on about how there isn't really any evidence, and the climate was going to get warmer anyway. I don't need evidence for global warming, because I understand the theory. I don't need evidence for evolution because given my understanding of genetics, I cannot see how it can't be the case, evolution is the natural result of genetics and natural selection. Likewise, we know that CO2 and methane (the two major GHGs) cause a greenhouse effect. We know that without them the earth would be a lot colder, and that if we want to terraform Mars CO2 would be the first thing to put there. We also know that we are pumping out huge quantities of the stuff

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