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Iceland says fill 'er up — with hydrogen

By Richard Middleton

April 25, 2003

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Iceland opened a filling station for hydrogen-powered vehicles yesterday – one of very few in the world and the next step toward its dream of giving up fossil fuels completely.

The first car in line was a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, a prototype provided under a European Union-backed program to use Iceland as a test for hydrogen power.

There weren't any other customers yesterday. No one in Iceland – population, 280,000 – is known to drive a car powered by hydrogen.

The station will be used by three DaimlerChrysler hydrogen-powered buses being introduced into the Reykjavik fleet for two years, starting in August. Each bus can go about 125 miles before refueling.

"In time, what is happening in Iceland will show to the rest of the world that hydrogen fuel is a real, commercial possibility that will lead to a cleaner, pollution-free environment," Industry Minister Valgerdir Sverrisdottir said at an opening ceremony.

The major partners in the venture are Icelandic New Energy, DaimlerChrysler, Norsk Hydro and Royal Dutch Shell. The European Union contributed $3.1 million of the $7.7 million cost of the project.

The hydrogen station looks like a normal gas station – complete with the distinctive yellow Shell logo – except that one wall facing the street has an enormous light-blue sign that reads, "the ultimate fuel." The hydrogen, in gas form, is dispensed via a thin tube.

Iceland was chosen in part because of its history of using alternative fuel; 90 percent of its electricity is from geothermal springs or hydropower.

Norway's Norsk Hydro developed the hydrogen electrolyzers that use electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms. When used in a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen again combine, and water is the only exhaust product.

The city of Los Angeles and the University of California campuses at Irvine and Davis are using hydrogen cars. Stations are expected soon in Tokyo, Hamburg, Germany, and in major cities in the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, Belgium and Sweden.

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.