Iceland: a hydrogen microcosm

Much of the investing world may be down on hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies, particularly those related to automobiles. But Iceland, the tiny volcanic country that gets most of its power from geothermal and hydroelectric energy, continues to push forward on its multi-decade plan of being a center for hydrogen innovation and deployment. It makes sense, given the country is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy resources, and rather they be the test bed for these technologies than North America. Jon Bjorn Skulason, who heads up Icelandic New Energy, predicts in this Reuters article that by 2035 most of Iceland’s road vehicles could be hydrogen-fuelled. More interesting, perhaps, is that in April the country will launch the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial vessel. The goal is to prove that hydrogen fuel cells can be used on ships and boats, and the longer-term plan is to convert Iceland’s fishing fleet to hydrogen. It makes more sense than cars, and as with stationary fuel-cell applications, there could be an actual market for fuel-cell powered ships. Kudos to Iceland for giving it a try and letting the rest of the world watch. I got a chance to visit Iceland back in 2004. Rode on one of its first hydrogen buses in Reykjavik. Toured geothermal plants. Swam in the Blue Lagoon. It was awesome. But the uniqueness of the country also means a hydrogen economy may have limited application in regions of the world that aren’t blessed with the same renewable resources.

And I can’t help think: With all that cheap, abundant renewable energy, wouldn’t it make just as much sense — if not more — to embrace electric transportation using batteries? Iceland may well become an all-hydrogen microcosm on the world stage, but being such a small market, does it risk alienating itself from the rest of the world and ultimately hurting itself economically?

7 thoughts on “Iceland: a hydrogen microcosm”

  1. sure – electrification of cars is fine, but the population is sub 200,000 if i recall correctly. IMHO, the better thing for Iceland to do with all of its abundant, clean and nearly free geothermal power is to first electrolyze water for hydrogen (which they are already doing), then using a FT process, combine it with CO and make a gaseous or liquid fuel. ie, synthetic methane, diesel, etc. if the source of the CO is from a renewable (eg, bio waste) or the output of an industrial process, then it is a 99.9% pure green fuel, without the baggage and overhead of ethanol, etc. basically, a multi step process to take geothermal energy and convert it to a fuel that has much more utility than hydrogen (transportable, safe, etc) that could turn them into a green energy super power with global export capacity.

    compare the life cycle CO2 costs of the proposed hydrogen economy (including the co2 costs associated with building new infrastructure etc) to the idea described above (everyone can handle LNG or propane compared to H2) and i bet adding value to h2 wins.

  2. Hydrogen generation from sunlight:

    I’ve been following this technology very closely for a couple of years now. I have many more links, some of them highly technical. I was first turned onto this technology from a short article in Scientific American (2005, month?).

    Typing “titanium dioxde hydrogen” into google will get you started. You may also find a couple of somewhat related sites about Gratzel Cells which are dye coated titanium dioxde solar cells that can be manufactured at 1/10th the cost of silicon based solar cells and with equivalent efficiency.

    An Australian company called Dyesol,, is currently working with this technology.

    Go Honda go! That FCX looks sharp.

    When companies like Ferrari, Porsche, Lambourgini and Bugatti can build $400k plus exotics that are apparently the pinnacle of engineering and you have a guy in his garage building a $100k electric (Wrightspeed X1, imagine what the ecomomy of scale could do for that car) that kills them (except for the $1.5 million dollar! Bugatti Veyron) clearly the rich are not getting their monies worth…Oops, this rant is for a different blog.

  3. Yes (well added to paint to make it white). Check the wikipedia entry for it. It’s probably in your toothpaste and sunscreen as well.

    excerpt from wikipedia : …In almost every sunscreen with a physical blocker, titanium dioxide is found because of its *high refractive index*, its strong *UV light absorbing capabilities* and its *resistance to discolouration under ultraviolet light*.

    What better material to build a product that will be left in the sun for a lifetime!

    The hydrogen conversion technology seems to be the cleanest “green tech” I can think of. Australia is a great testing ground for this as they have an abundance of sunshine.

  4. Correction: Scientific American May 2006. Page 24. “Light Work” article by Eric Smalley. Just giving credit where credit is due.

  5. Re greenest tech; see Terra Preta Indigo (Bio Char, Agri Char) as this tech promises carbon-negative results.

  6. Yeach iceland will become the first country which have focus on fuel cell and hydrogen research center. I think with hydrogen as fuel more benefit compared when we use battery on our car…

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