Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2008
Q60 Dr Gibson: How early? How late
Mr Loughhead: It is scientific
Q61 Dr Gibson: Do you think that
it is worth supporting?
Mr Loughhead: It is worth supporting
and there is already industrial interest. Shell have just started
work in Hawaii on related topics and I think that it has a very
high potential for the future, very high research interest but
at the very early stage.
Q62 Dr Gibson: Finally, for electricity
generation, where has first and second stage bio-fuels research
and development got to? It is getting a priority or is it just
a nice thing to do or do you feel that there is a real push? Is
it the same push as making a trident missile for example?
Mr Loughhead: A different stage
of research, with respect. I think that the work that is going
on is substantial but, if we decide that we wish to pursue it
seriously, probably there is scope for more to be done than we
are currently doing now. My estimation for instance is that a
country like India is putting much more resource and focus on
that than the UK for very good reasons in the Indian context.
Q63 Dr Gibson: For the record, why
Mr Loughhead: The reason is that
India has enormous quantities of agricultural waste residue and,
if they can find a way of converting that into useable bio-fuel,
it fulfils not only their energy objectives but it also gives
their rural villagers a potential income stream and a way of generating
money from stuff which at the moment is just a problem to them.
So, it has a very strong social value as well.
Q64 Graham Stringer: What are the
major constraints on the deployment of fuel cell technology and,
if you want support for the development of industries, how on
earth do the Government choose to support technologies that are
as different as fuel cell technology compared to wind power or
Mr Loughhead: I will take that
question. The problems with the deployment of fuel cells is that
first of all there are two different areas of deployment, either
in vehicles which are the so-called low temperature fuel cells
or in stationary applications, the high temperature fuel cells.
For the first, the problem is cost compared with existing technology
plus the problem of supplying hydrogen, which they need for fuel,
from a source that is itself sustainable or renewable. At the
moment, the cost of these devices is more than order of magnitude,
probably two orders of magnitude greater than it would need to
be to be commercially competitive. It is also a different technology;
it is a disruptive technology; you need electric drive systems
rather than mechanical drive systems; there is not the infrastructure
to support and maintain the technology. In order to do it, it
would need a substantive encouragement, whether through fiscal
measures or whether through direct support means, to take it through
into the market. If that were to happen, because of the international
nature of the automotive market it would need to be done as part
of a concerted international effort and Europe has just launched
what they call a joint technology initiative to try to do that
and hopefully the UK will play an intelligent part in that initiative
to get the most benefit out of it and to support it. For the stationary
applications, they are differentiated in that they can use carbon
containing fuels and the big advantage is that they can generate
electricity at high efficiency but at small scale, even down to
domestic scale, and therefore they open up the possibility of
combined heat and power. For instance, with one of the UK developers,
British Gas is about to launch a demonstration scheme measured
in the about 10,000 units. In order for that to then go forward,
again there will need to be some incentive to do that rather than
the conventional approach and I think that is going to be down
to some consideration by Government to decide how best to do that.
Chairman: I am going to leave that there.
I apologise to you allyou have been an absolutely splendid
panel this morningbecause we have not done justice to the
agenda that we set ourselves. I ask that we may write to you with
some of the issues which we have not been able to fully explore
with you in order to complete the evidence session for this morning.
I thank Professor John Wilson, John Loughhead, Dr Gordon Edge
and Philip Wolfe. Thank you very, very much indeed for your contribution