Three major Scandinavian companies in the electric power industry yesterday announced plans to work together in a project to further develop hydrogen fuel cell technology. Norway’s Statkraft, Sweden’s Sydkraft and Swedish-Swiss ABB jointly issued a letter of intent to begin the project which, while having no set budget, is expected to cost $5-10 million.
“It is just a question of time before hydrogen as an energy source becomes a competitive alternative to fossil fuels,” said Statkraft technology director Jon Brandsar. He said it was highly significant that three companies of this size should get together to develop an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels
Statkraft and Sydkraft are the biggest electricity producers in their respective countries, while ABB is a major world supplier of electrical and power supply systems.
A pilot plant for the production and distribution of hydrogen is to be built in Norway, which will be used to test new technologies.
“Climate problems steadily force new demands for solutions,” said Brandsar. He said hydrogen produced in plants powered by wind or water would meet those demands by being pollution free.
In principle, a fuel cell operates like a battery. Unlike a battery, a fuel cell does not run down or require recharging. It will produce energy in the form of electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied.
A fuel cell consists of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte. Oxygen passes over one electrode and hydrogen over the other, generating electricity, water and heat.
Hydrogen fuel is fed into the “anode” of the fuel cell. Oxygen (or air) enters the fuel cell through the cathode. Encouraged by a catalyst, the hydrogen atom splits into a proton and an electron, which take different paths to the cathode. The proton passes through the electrolyte. The electrons create a separate current that can be utilized before they return to the cathode, to be reunited with the hydrogen and oxygen in a molecule of water.
A spokesman for Statkraft said the project covers broad ranges of uses for hydrogen, from large-scale electricity production to smaller fuel cells.