As for the state of the art in the policy implementation, Transport accounts for some 71% of all oil consumption in the EU, with the automotive sector alone dependent on oil at 98%, according to the Commission.
To reduce oil dependency, the Commission has set out an objective to substitute 20% of traditional automotive fuels with alternatives by the year 2020 (Green Paper: Towards a European Strategy for the Security of Energy Supply 2000). A year later, it presented a communication on alternative fuels, identifying three of them as the most promising: biofuels, natural gas and hydrogen.
The current state of the art of the hydrogen use in the mobility sector has to be analyzed from two different perspectives:
- The technical one;
– The political one, which should implement and disseminate the technical results and innovations.
As for the technical state of the art, two different uses of hydrogen have been studied:
a) hydrogen for electricity production to be used in electric engines;
b) hydrogen as a fuel to be used directly in the traditional endothermic engines.
Hydrogen and fuel cells
As hydrogen is an element, capable only of being destroyed / transformed by fusion, conventional usage of hydrogen might be the sustainable solution for the future. And, as fuel cells only produce water vapor, no (harmful) emissions are produced. Hydrogen is not available as such in the nature and must therefore be obtained from its available combinations (water and hydrocarbons) by simple but energy-intensive chemical processes (water electrolysis, steam reform from natural gas).
Hydrogen as a fuel
The use of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel is not restricted to fuel cells. Hydrogen is a perfect fuel for conventional Otto engines. This fact is proved through several experiments by engine manufacturers or operators. Consequently, some recent programmes at EU level foresee demonstration of hydrogen technology under actual operation conditions. This confirms that, due to the considerably lower costs of internal combustion engines compared with fuel cells, this solution is seem to be the most appropriate until future developments have considerably reduced the cost of procurement and operation of fuel cells. When used in internal combustion engines, hydrogen produces NOx. These emissions are able to be kept under the limits of the relevant norm. Mixtures of hydrogen and natural gas can also be an intermediate step.
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