Jan. 22, 2001
a movement afoot to make all of Iceland's energy renewable.
Geothermal activity isn't just for hot springs and geological study.
It's harnessed for heat - and used for everything from hot water
to vegetable greenhouses. Iceland also uses a great deal of hydropower,
from the network of rivers and waterfalls that crisscross the island.
And now researchers are using hydrogen to run the nation's cars
and fishing trawlers. From Reykjavik, The World's Rebecca Roberts
Boiling hot water courses
underground here in Reykjavik, sometimes erupting in geysers throughout
(sound of geyser burbling)
The locals pump the
hot water out of the earth to heat homes. It's stored in enormous
tanks on top of one of Reykjavik's few hills, the better to let
gravity help distribute it around town. These tanks are landmark,
visible from all over town. There's even a restaurant perched on
top of them, called The Pearl, complete with a manmade geyser that
erupts intermittently. From The Pearl's balcony, you have a 360
degree view of Iceland's capital city and the ocean beyond. To University
of Iceland professor Thorsteinn Sigfusson this is more than just
a pretty view. It's a geographic history lesson in Iceland's innovation.
When the settlers first came to Reykjavik in around 874 AD, they
noticed a lot of fumes, or let me say steam, from the what is
now harnessed pools of Reykjavik. So they decided to call it smoke
bay, or steam bay if you like. Reyk-javik.
After World War II,
Iceland transformed two-thirds of its coal and oil energy infrastructure
by harnessing the abundant hydro-electric and geothermal power on
the island. As chairman of a group called Iceland New Energy, Thorstein
Sigfusson is now helping to combine government, industry, and science
to use water again to transform the remaining third. The goal is
to take the many cars still dependent on oil, and switch them all
over to hydrogen power instead. Iceland is a great place to do this.
From this balcony overlooking the city, one thing you won't see
is trees -- Iceland has very few. Since oil forms from decayed organic
matter like trees and algae, Iceland has no naturally occurring
fossil fuels. But what it lacks in physical resources, Sigfusson
says Iceland will make up in innovation.
This seems an ideal situation to make our own fuel. And the most
ideal fuel to make is of course hydrogen. This simplest atom of
Converting to hydrogen
fuel is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Hydrogen is already made
in some quantity in Iceland. It's mainly used in fertilizer, which
is necessary to grow much of anything in Iceland's volcanic soil.
And the world's auto makers, spurred along by mandates for lower
vehicle emissions, have helped develop a technology called fuel
cell to turn hydrogen into power. But Sigfusson says there are still
Powering anything from hydrogen is quite possible using fuel cells,
which are quite well-developed now. But storage is a problem.
The technology just
isn't there yet to store the volatile gas cheaply safely and cheaply.
The fuel cell technology that allows vehicles to run on hydrogen
is further along in development, but still makes for heavy, expensive
vehicles. The bulky fuel cells may be okay for stationary factories,
and even possible for large fishing trawlers, but they're still
impractical for regular cars. Valgerdur Sverrisdottir, Iceland's
minister of Industry, says the government is doing all it can to
help Iceland New Energy overcome these obstacles.
Icelanders are proud of the fact that about two thirds of the
energy consumption is from renewable energy sources. I think that
this and the fact that we have some experience in replacing energy
sources, helps lay the groundwork for the use of hydrogen in transportation
in the future.
It will take years for
the hydrogen conversion to happen, though. And then Icelandic consumers
will have to embrace the new technology. Many people still associate
hydrogen with the explosion of the Hindenberg zeppelin. Valgerdur
Sverrisdottir, for one, isn't worried.
When the hydrogen technology becomes economically feasible, I
think that Icelanders will be quick to adopt the new technology.
Icelanders are acceptable to new technologies.
agrees. And he hopes that once Iceland's experiment is successful,
other nations will follow suit. But the key to replicating Iceland's
clean energy model, he says, is to produce hydrogen fuel using renewable
energy. After all, using fossil fuels in the process saves neither
money nor greenhouse gas emissions.
Hydrogen economy will not be possible until, I think either the
sun is harnessed, or nuclear energy is harnessed in a way that,
in an acceptable manner. So that hydrogen is not a primary source,
it's just a carrier.
In that forward thinking
spirit, three hydrogen buses will hit Iceland's streets next year.
And plans are underway to build a hydrogen filling station in the
nation's capital. For the World, I'm Rebecca Roberts. Reykjavik,
Running on Hydrogen