Memorandum submitted by Professor Rex
Harris, Chair of the Energy Futures Group, University of Birmingham
At the University of Birmingham we are engaged
in a major research drive to exploit hydrogen as an effective
energy vector linked to a range of clean, renewable energy sources.
Thus, there are programmes on the generation of hydrogen from
biomass (eg sugar waste from Cadburys) the solid-state storage
of hydrogen using novel materials, the employment of hydrogen
to improve combustion efficiency in diesel engines, the employment
of hydrogen in fuel cells and on the environmental impact of a
hydrogen economy. All these activities will form part of a Hydrogen
Technology Centre (HyTeC) Metallurgy and Materials and Chemical
Sciences are coordinating a large Framework five EC-grant called
Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Stores for Integration into Automobiles
(FUCHSIA) and this is part of a consortium involving the Universities
of Birmingham and Reading (UK), Johnson Matthey (UK), IFW-Dresden
(Germany) and the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). The aim
here is to develop an effective "on-board" solid-state
hydrogen store to power a H2/O2 fuel cell
Hydrogen storage represents a major technical
challenge and an effective solid-state store would have considerable
advantages over alternatives of liquid hydrogen or compressed
gas cylinders, particularly for transport applications. It would
operate at moderate temperatures (up to 80ºC) and moderate
pressures of around one atmosphere. In the case of liquid hydrogen
or compressed gas cylinders, a substantial fraction of the energy
(up to 30%) is employed in either liquefying the hydrogen or compressing
the gas. In addition, there are significant safety concerns associated
with these forms of hydrogen storage.
The University of Birmingham is also coordinating
the EPSRC SUPERGEN Initiative on hydrogen and this is focussing
on the development of effective solid-state hydrogen stores and
will coordinate the research effort throughout the UK. The City
of Birmingham has also targeted sustainable development as a vital
aspect of its Eastside development, the largest building project
in Europe. This includes the development of a hydrogen infrastructure
and the EPSRC are likely to fund a feasibility study at the University
on the potential for SD-schemes in the Eastside development. The
University, together with Advantage West Midlands and the City
Council is also responding to the recent DTI, low C-vehicle initiative.
Having summarised the research and development
activities in the University of Birmingham, we would now like
to address the inquiry terms of reference as listed in the press
(1) In our view, the current level of expenditure
in research and development in hydrogen-based technologies is
inadequate and substantially below that of the USA, Japan (£16
million this fiscal year) and Germany. In the UK, too much time
is being taken up seeking competitive funding and long term financial
assistance would allow scientist and engineers to develop the
necessary new materials and technologies without having to worry
constantly about the next grant. We very much welcome the SUPERGEN
initiative, which represents a major step forward, and we would
wish to see this develop into something comparable to the USA
DOE integrated programme on hydrogen storage, which would require
a significant increase in the level of funding.
(2) The existing industrial activities in
hydrogen in the UK are limited and should receive support, eg
Johnson Matthey, BP, Shell, and SMEs such as SW Electrolysers,
Less Common Metals, Intelligent Power, etc. It is vital that there
should be substantial support for medium/large-scale demonstrators
throughout the UK to support these industries and provide working
experience. Scotland is providing a strong lead in this regard
and hopefully will provide an excellent example to be emulated
by regional authorities throughout the UK.
(3) The skills base is in crisis in the
UK with falling numbers of engineers in the areas required to
develop the necessary infrastructure. This is particularly true
for Materials Science and Materials Engineering where falling
numbers will seriously threaten our national expertise in these
areas. The excitement of a hydrogen economy should be exploited
to recruit young people to these disciplines. This, in our view,
is a matter of the utmost urgency.
(4) There are too many government agencies
involved in this area and the picture is confusing. We believe
that there should be one body coordinating the whole exercise.
(5) The FUCHSIA project is an excellent
example of international collaboration but, unfortunately, there
is no DTI sponsored programme on the hydrogen economy despite
being under consideration for some years. This puts the UK at
a disadvantage when it comes to international programmes. We must
be able to "bring something to the party". Framework
six offers a great opportunity to boost the UK programme but it
will be intensively competitive and should be effectively augmented
by separate UK funding.
(6) The privatised energy companies might
see distributed energy as a threat rather than an opportunity.
The Woking initiative should be regarded as a model for the rest
of the UK.
(7) The recent DTI Low Carbon Vehicle Initiative
highlighted the importance of the manufacturing sector the UK
economy and in particular the car and car component industry.
However, the UK is losing its manufacturing base and, if this
continues, the UK will not be able to commercially exploit the
enormous opportunities presented by the non-carbon fuel economy.
The creation of clean energy "spin-offs" should be encouraged
at every possible opportunity.
All these problems are solvable but we must
avoid the "can't do" and "too little too late"
attitudes. We would very much welcome the opportunity to discuss
these vitally important matters further and we believe that there
is an urgent need for a national debate on this subject.
20 September 2002