Cow turds fuel Blighty's hydrogen filling station embrace

Birmingham Uni fills up on brown gas

Cow Patting toward a Browner Tomorrow

When asked where all the electricity would come from, hydrogen-car enthusiasts usually suggest solar or wind power. The idea that solar, wind, or tidal might be able to power the transport sector as well as delivering most of the ordinary electric supply is not usually seen as believable - even Greenpeace don't think this is feasible - so the hydrogen economy is often perceived as actually being a nuclear-powered economy.

This is not even to mention the electric-v-hydrogen argument. In this, the electric-car fanciers suggest that a hydrogen car is merely one which stores electric power: so why not just use an electric car?

Then the hydrogen lovers say they aren't happy to sit about charging up for hours every time they run out of juice etc etc, and so the merry day winds on.

The Birmingham Uni study, funded by various government and private bodies, is intended to help settle this kind of debate by generating data on the performance of fuel-cell cars. In the case of the Birmingham filling point, the hydrogen won't be made using natural gas, either. It will come from Basingstoke-based company Green Gases.

It says its hydrogen is produced by water electrolysis - and the electric power isn't nasty carbo-nuclear grid 'leccy. Rather, it's made by burning methane in a generator; and the methane comes from anaerobically digested cowpats.

One would get as many or more road miles out of the methane by simply burning it in a diesel*, so this ploy isn't exactly efficient. And it seems pretty much certain that running the future vehicle fleet of old Blighty on cowshit electricity - whether stored in the form of hydrogen or not - isn't a viable plan.

One thing's for sure. No matter what side of the debate you're on, this kind of convoluted green-tech manoeuvring is fascinating to watch. ®


*Combined-cycle gas turbine generators can achieve say 55 per cent thermal efficiency, to be sure, but Green Gases isn't using CCGT. And the hydrogen car itself is probably only 60 per cent efficient. So the cow gas is being turned into brake horsepower at something a good bit worse than 33 per cent efficiency. A modern diesel could easily beat this.

This hydrogen is perhaps a brown gas rather than a green one.

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