Kathy Smethers is an Eastbourne Borough Councillor.
Global warming concerns everyone. The unusual weather events of recent times are often attributed to man’s overproduction of carbon emissions.
When world leaders met in Paris for the United Nations Conference on climate change last November, they sought to address this problem by getting agreement, for the first time, from all nation states to cut emissions.
Yet a lasting solution will only be found in alternative energy solutions, and Hydrogen fuels generated by green energy could really be the answer, if we act fast both politically and financially.
The greater efficiency offered by hydrogen, even with traditional infrastructure, could allow many nations to achieve long-term energy independence who could not at present. Fracking will provide energy self-sufficiency in the short term but it still produces carbon emissions.
Solar, wind, and water power are carbon-free and provide strong solutions both environmentally and economically, but smart thinking has not been used to maximise their efficiency.
Smart wind farms should be placed on land, despite the controversy surrounding such proposals. Offshore wind farms are all very well, but despite the impact on views placing windmills on top of hills or mountains would in fact be the best place.
Not only is wind speed higher above sea level than at sea, but the cost of maintaining anything based in the sea is much higher than on land due to issues such as water depth, corrosion, and salt damage.
We need to get over the idea that windfarms are unsightly since the effect on the environment of nuclear power stations and coal and gas fired stations is much worse.
Is it just because we think power stations are fine as long as they are not in our own neighbourhood?
Wind is not the only answer. After the terrible flooding we have seen in recent years, should we be harnessing the power of higher water levels?
Could we incorporate water turbines where water is fast flowing, both to develop our hydroelectric capacity and protecting ourselves from damage?
Solar energy costs are reducing, but whilst the necessary technology is improving it does not really have the capability to fuel transport the way hydrocarbons do to. Nuclear fuel must also be a temporary fix because of its toxic by-products and waste. Hydrogen fuels have been developed over the past 30 years, but are still not ready for mass production.
There are already cars and trains that drive on hydrogen fuels with the same efficiency as conventional vehicles and better performance than their electric alternatives. As the by-products of combustion are oxygen and water this would genuinely stop carbon emissions. We could all convert to its use without having to drastically change our way of life.
The oil and car companies, like Shell and Toyota, are already researching and working on this fuel, driven by the need to remain competitive when the world moves beyond traditional fossil fuels.
Mass production of electric batteries through green methods is a another possibility, but Toyota postulates that the lithium-based battery is reaching the end of its capacity, whereas hydrogen fuel cells have already been used in space technology because of its performance advantages. It is also a reusable fuel which, unlike hydrocarbons, will not run out over time.
It has been suggested that if liquid hydrogen containers could be placed at hubs (one for every ten streets and household) energy and car energy could be provided together doing away with power stations completely.
There are however problems with the process that current technology has not solved. The use of energy to produce liquid hydrogen is one.
Hydrogen is only a green fuel if it is generated using green energy. If the energy could be produced via solar cells in the desert, or wind farms on mountains, this might be possible and green. If it is produced by hydrocarbons this defeats the objective of cutting carbon emissions.
Another limiting step is the use of expensive platinum as a catalyst, although experiments with nickel-based catalysts in the USA could reduce the cost of the fuel cells by 20 per cent.
The combustibility of hydrogen is also an issue. Hydrogen containers are currently safe but, being made of steel and carbon fibre, are too heavy. This might cause problems with mass production and delivery of the fuel to the hubs required to administer it, although it could be done in the conventional way using ships and HGVs.
Hydrogen gas can already be distributed in conventional pipe lines with methane as it is three times lighter. It can then be separated from the methane at the point of use. More efficient use of hydrogen gas is possible, compared with methane, meaning better value for the customer.
Areas where there is a lot of sun, like Texas and the Middle East, could produce green hydrogen fuel instead of oil, whilst Iceland could produce it using geothermal energy and Brazil using hydroelectric power.
Solar powered and hydroelectric methods of production are already being worked on. Biological methods, using hydrolase enzymes from algae, are also under way (although this process requires heat).
This brings a whole new perspective to the economics and politics of alternative fuel. We should put all our efforts into developing green hydrogen fuel right now, rather than waiting until hydrocarbons run out.
It is very important that world leaders recognise the potential of this fuel, and seek to facilitate its development. Proper global support, funding and legislation for the industry could really make its use possible.
Rather than tinkering round the edges of carbon emission reduction, this technology has great potential and would be the cheapest way to proceed in protecting our planet whilst causing the minimum disruption to society and the world economy.
When produced using green energy sources, hydrogen fuel could transform the energy industry and, in the long term, reduce further carbon emissions to zero by replacing them with oxygen and water. Energy self-sufficiency could be possible for many more countries.
It is too soon to talk about mass production at present, but if we recognise the potential of combining green fuels with hydrogen technology, and seriously devote our resources and political will to it as a global community, we could find a long term solution to overproduction of carbon emissions.