(Copyright North Shore News 2006)

Hydrogen industry working as fast as it can

Raphael Lopoukhine offers a good look at the hydrogen industry in his article, Will Hydrogen Save the Planet? (North Shore News, Sept. 10).

However, there is some missing detail both from Joseph Romm's opinions and from our local growing hydrogen economy.

The article states that hydrogen is "too little too late" but doesn't offer alternatives if this is not the answer.

In fact, Romm himself is a proponent of hydrogen in the future, stating that "continued research into hydrogen remains important because of its potential to provide a pollution-free substitute for oil," although his current focus is on developing overall energy efficiency and renewable energy (some of which, coincidentally, is developing in hydrogen industry).

In fact, hydrogen can help store renewable energy -- capturing wind energy for use when wind isn't blowing, solar energy for nighttime, and hydro-electric energy during the night, for increased use during the day.

The Integrated Waste Hydrogen Utilization Project (IWHUP) in North Vancouver is attempting to address the "chicken and egg" problem Romm mentions by demonstrating a complete source-to-end use project: capturing, purifying and compressing hydrogen, then delivering it to fuelling stations for vehicles that will then use the hydrogen, as well as to an environmentally friendly car wash (they hope to be the first in the world to gain LEED -- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design -- certification).

This project has the support and funding of three Canadian government agencies and uses internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles -- currently mass-produced, which have then been converted to facilitate hydrogen -- quite a "practical car" in fact, to alleviate Romm's concerns and accelerate consumer accessibility.

True, government support and their role as an early adopter of this technology is critical to continue progress, but there is current progress in our own backyard.

The article states that the most common way to produce hydrogen is through fossil fuels. This is correct, and this type of production is believed to increase commercial acceptance by using current infrastructure while additional technology and new infrastructure is developed.

In the meantime, North Vancouver's Hydrogen Technology and Energy Corporation (HTEC) is capturing waste hydrogen, not producing it from fossil fuels. Once the North Vancouver demonstration is complete, this process can be increased and duplicated with the 20 Canadian plants that Sacre-Davey's Colin Armstrong mentions in the article.

Romm states that "flaring hydrogen . . . is just plain stupid." While this is rather inflammatory and judgmental, technology and funding have only just come together to be able to effectively capture it. He also said this hydrogen should be put back into the electrical grid. IWHUP's car wash is not only significantly reducing reliance on the electrical grid with its fuel cell, but it is sending excess energy back to the grid.

With the combination of this unique hydrogen source and plant, in addition to the vehicles and car wash, this project is being watched with interest by local, national and international businesses.

Romm's quote is right: "more is needed" to tackle climate change, but we must start somewhere, and hydrogen has a very good start.

The National Hydrogen Association states that hydrogen has been used for 50 years in large quantities around the world, and the United States produces over nine million metric tons of hydrogen annually, mostly for use in petroleum refining and fertilizer production -- enough to fuel 35 million cars, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A good part of the infrastructure for this hydrogen is already in place.

One of the B.C. Hydrogen Highway's objectives with infrastructure is to increase public accessibility, through new hydrogen technology that will eventually be marketable. Much of this new technology may be just what Romm was looking for when he mentioned in 2004 that "major breakthroughs" were needed. Hydrogen proponents don't discount the importance of additional green house gas reductions and other climate change measures beyond hydrogen.

Those working with hydrogen do know that they are doing what they can, as fast as they can.

In the meantime, just what is happening in North Vancouver? To find out, visit IWHUP's public education session at Indigo Books' Marine Drive location on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 3 p.m.

Leigh Harris is a North Shore resident and the communications director for Sacre-Davey Innovations and the Integrated Waste Hydrogen Utilization Project.