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Shell Hydrogen
Shell Oil company sees hydrogen as the fuel of the future, using this sea shell and model globe to illustrate brochure cover for its Shell Hydrogen business unit.

Shell's H2 Future

An interview with Chris de Koning, Shell Hydrogen's corporate communications director.

By Bill Moore

Chris de Koning, Shell Hydrogen's external affairs and corporate communications director, headquartered in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, quickly came to the point when EV World asked him why Shell has taken an such an active interest in hydrogen as a future fuel source.

He cited three factors: local emissions, global warming and the growing mood in the West, especially in America, for less dependency on foreign oil.

"If you look at hydrogen, you see that with hydrogen you can solve those three problems. That's why we think that hydrogen will be the fuel of the future, because we need to solve all of these problems successfully at once. That's sort of the long-term view of Shell."

Shell formed Shell Hydrogen in 1999 when it saw car makers were serious about developing fuel cell vehicles that require hydrogen to run.

"Obviously, we as an energy company, we start to think how can we fuel these cars that will be on the road in 2004? That means we have to build a hydrogen infrastructure."

The company decided the best way to insure it would continue to participate in this future energy business was to take the initiative and form a business unit whose mandate was to explore how to supply hydrogen to the vehicles of the future.

De Koning described Shell Hydrogen as a "global company" whose mission is to develop business opportunities in both fuel cells and hydrogen. He said that the unit is devoting its resources to seeing where fuel cell technology is developing and finding ways to provide them with the hydrogen they need.

That search has lead to projects in California and in Japan where Shell Hydrogen is participating in small fuel cell fleet trials. Perhaps of more significance in terms of its longer range objectives and impact is the initiative in Iceland to convert the entire island nation to a hydrogen-based economy starting with fuel cell buses next year. Eventually, the island in the North Atlantic wants all of its transportation system, including its fishing fleet to run on renewable, non-polluting hydrogen.

De Koning explained that it was the government of Iceland that initiated this mass effort.

"They have the perfect starting point for this because," he said. "they are an island." He noted that because of the size of Iceland, the government doesn't have to build a large new fuel infrastructure. He also pointed out that Iceland was successful in convincing DaimlerChrysler to deploy some of its new crop of fuel cell buses on the island."

Referring to the proverbial dilemma of the "chicken and egg" he commented somewhat humorously that, "The chicken and egg problem on an island is a lot easier to solve than to do it in a large country." The combination of strong government support and the relative ease of providing fuel to a small fleet of fuel cell buses was enough to convince Shell Hydrogen that this was an initiative worth supporting.

Still, the company's investment in its hydrogen endeavors may not, at first glance, appear to be in its best interests, but De Koning dismisses that assumption by pointing out that the need for ever increasing amounts of energy is going to out pace the supply of petroleum.

"There will be a gap that we will have to close with another type of energy source," he said. "That's one big reason to think broader than our current fuels," adding that because it is a clean fuel, it solves a lot of environmental problems. "We see it very much as an option for future growth for our company."

De Koning deflected questions about future time lines. He said that requires looking into a crystal ball, which he simply couldn't do. Instead, he pointed out that Shell does develop numerous scenarios as part of its global planning efforts and one of those scenarios released just last year saw hydrogen and fuel cells as the clear winners by 2050. He cautioned, however, that this is predicated on the assumption that the cost of fuel cells can be brought down and hydrogen can be inexpensively produced.

"We think about scenarios, but your question is very much a question of looking into a crystal ball," he responded.

Near term developments in Iceland, however, don't require a seer or fortune teller. De Koning gladly explained Shell Hydrogen's role in Iceland, through a subsidiary it has set up for the purpose. The company plans to build its first hydrogen refueling station on the island in 2003 near Reykjavik, the capital. This station will use Iceland's abundant hydroelectricity to electrolyze hydrogen, which will refuel three fuel cell transit buses due to start arriving next year. How fast the company builds similar stations on the island depends on how fast car makers bring fuel cell cars to market, he said.

Continued Next Week. . .

Times Article Viewed: 2978
Published: 17-Aug-2002

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