Iceland’s Hydrogen Economy

January 24, 2008 § 4 Comments

(subtitle: I Watched The Iceland Episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Decided It Was My Least-favorite Nordic Country, But I Might Have Been Too Hasty)

Every day while looking for clean transportation stories to put in the newsletter (new job, long story), I come across stories that don’t quite fit the mandate— they don’t have any money attached, or the owner would consider them filler— but they’re still very cool stories that I think would capture lots of interest if they were better publicized.

Then I remembered I have a blog.

Hi!

Iceland is testing the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered commercial fishing vessel. The ship is also equipped with a standard diesel engine, and is used primarily as a whale-watching ship. Hydrogen is a perfect choice for a whale-watching vessel, as its owner, Vignir Sigursveinsson, pointed out: “When we have the hydrogen machine, the boat will be completely soundless, which will make the experience of seeing the whales in their natural habitat even more magical.”

I didn’t know this about Iceland, but they’ve been weaning themselves off foreign oil for almost fifty years, in part because they have no petroleum and the small population and isolation drives up the prices so much. Also, a small population doesn’t lend itself to public transportation, so nearly everyone there drives, and most families have two cars.

But Icelanders are moving as fast as they can to correct the problem. They increase orders for fuel cell cars every year, and opened their first hydrogen station in 2003— nine months ahead of California. They say just 15 hydrogen stations should be enough for the whole country. If this fuel cell engine on the fishing boat works out, they’ll switch their whole fishing fleet to hydrogen fuel cells within two years.

And since all of Iceland electricity is provided by their own natural gas reserves and wind power, they’ll be the first nation to go completely carbon-free. Then they’ll just have to wait for the rest of us.

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§ 4 Responses to Iceland’s Hydrogen Economy

  • […] Iceland is testing the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered commercial fishing vessel. The ship is also equipped with a standard diesel engine, and is used primarily as a whale-watching ship. Hydrogen is a perfect choice for a … Read More […]

  • Nancy Bond says:

    I love the fact that Iceland is willing and able to make this conversion so quickly — that’s a large part of the problem with the rest of us…we’re looking at improvements by the year 2030…2050. Me thinks it’ll be too late.

  • Kristina says:

    Iceland does make the perfect testing ground for these technologies, and I admire their effort immensely, especially since they started weaning themselves so long ago.

    China is the second-most likely to implement the world’s first hydrogen economy, but obviously that will take longer and be hundreds of thousands of times more expensive. But at least they’re not dragging their feet.

  • Interesting post. I’ve read that part of the problem with hydrogen is the energy required to produce it. But with Iceland’s renewable energy resources (wind and geothermal?), it does seem like it’s the perfect place to test.

    In the southeastern U.S., our politicians have been extremely resistant to laws requiring a certain percentage of electricity production come from renewables, due to a perceived lack of renewable resources (very little wind, no geothermal, etc – and photovoltaic solar being written off as being relatively expensive). But, I wonder how much of this perception comes from lack of creativity. One of the largest (and most famous) ocean currents sits right off our coast… the gulf stream. Surely there’s some potential there… and elsewhere if we really took the time to explore possibilities.

    Seeing a country try a hydrogen economy and make it work could make a big difference.

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