21st April 2018
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What now for hydrogen car?

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IT MAY have resembled a cross between a Frogeye Sprite and a Nissan Micra, but Pure Energy’s hydrogen-powered car had the potential to unlock the secret to finding alternative fuels.

So, what has happened to the pocket-size green machine?

The car was rolled out to the media some three years ago by its North Isles-based creator, in a bid to promote renewable energy in Unst.

With spiralling fuel costs just round the corner, few could have guessed just how relevant the car’s development would be.

The eco-friendly, seven foot long car was powered by a fuel cell using hydrogen produced by wind turbines in the island.

But despite a fanfare of publicity at the time, and continued international head scratching over what to do about rising pollution, the car has all but disappeared from the radar.

Its future has been cast further into question by well publicised doubts over the future of hydrogen as a fuel source for cars.

A recent report in The Economist found the global motor industry was showing signs of turning its back on hydrogen.

The report is peppered with American statistics, but it does point to a gloomy picture as far as hydrogen cars are concerned.

It says BP closed down its only hydrogen filling station in Britain last year, and is focusing on the development of biofuels rather than hydrogen.

All this comes as manufacturers are increasingly turning their eyes to electric hybrids – already a well developed technology which attracts lower vehicle excise duties thanks to their reduced emissions.

But leaders at Pure (Promoting Unst’s Renewable Energy) have rebutted the report, and say hydrogen cars do have a future.

Moreover, they say the Pure hydrogen car is far from dead, having played a pivotal part in the development of vehicles powered by alternative fuels.

Business development manager Elizabeth Johnson said the car was alive and well, although like any other Shetland car its metal structure was succumbing to the threat posed by the salt sea air and was beginning to rust.

She said one of Pure’s employees took the car to work on a daily basis, “gaining knowledge, data and experience” on the journey.

“When visitors come to our facility, we allow them to drive the vehicle. Ninety-nine per cent of our visitors have never driven a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

“This provides them with the confidence that these cars are for real.”

She added running the car had provided Pure with valuable lessons, which highlighted the “myth” that getting a hydrogen vehicle on the road would cost a six figure sum.

“Hydrogen vehicles are safe.

We did not get hit by the increase in fuel costs as we produced hydrogen locally for local consumption.

“This means we have produced our own fuel through renewable energy, hence any fluctuation in fuel price does not effect us.”

She added Pure had developed a number of “technical innovations” which would help it develop new hydrogen cars in the future – although she stopped short of explaining when that might be, and on how big a scale.

Asked whether Pure was concerned about the “chicken and egg” problem she said: “You can look at this issue two ways … Wait until something happens or take the opportunity and make it happen.

“This is what Henry Ford did when he started making cars. He did not have a single station available to him, but still developed a vehicle that matched what people wanted.

“Let us focus our efforts on developing the technology that people want. In addition to this, it will be easy for communities like Shetland to completely convert their infrastructure to become H2. The rationale is that communities are small enough to convert to H2.

“If all communities ally with each other, this provides critical mass, which will ultimately reduce costs and lead to a domino effect.

“The lessons learned have been shared with scientists at conferences, which will surely help taking the hydrogen vehicle agenda to the next stage.”

In 2006 Highlands and Islands Enterprise approved an equity investment of £300,000 for Pure Energy, of which £75,000 has been drawn down.

The following year HIE also approved a company training and development grant of £24,855.

Pure Energy was devised by local graduate Ross Gazey and developed by the Unst Partnership.

It is heavily involved in off grid energy projects and renewable hydrogen developments in four continents.