Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Sunlight and Hydrogen

Text from Volkswagen AG.

The German state of Lower Saxony’s first filling station for solar energy is about to commence operation at the Volkswagen Technology Center Isenbüttel

WOLFSBURG, Germany - In a co-operation with Solvis, a Braunschweig-based company specialising in solar energy and heating, and in the presence of Hans-Heinrich Sander, the State of Lower Saxony’s minister of the environment, a solar filling station will today be officially launched into operation on the grounds of the Volkswagen Technology Center in Isenbüttel.

“I very much welcome the launching of this solar-hydrogen filling station and the advent of the hydrogen age here in Lower Saxony which this launch represents,” commented Environment Minister Sander. As fossil sources of fuel continue to dwindle and become more expensive, hydrogen has emerged as a fuel of the future – alongside “SunFuel“, a synthetic diesel made of biomass.” This facility will enable a share of the fuel needed to run the fuel-cell vehicles and test beds developed there to be produced on location using energy from sunlight. “Viewed over the long term,” says Hartmut Märtens, head of fuel-cell development at Volkswagen, “hydrogen-powered fuel-cell drive will offer the greatest amount of potential for greenhouse-gas reduction – especially if such hydrogen is produced by way of a regenerative solution with the help of solar or wind energy. So we are paving the way for the future.” The aim of the co-operative project between Volkswagen AG and Solvis is to use the “demonstration facility” to gain experience with this new technology and to determine the best practices relevant to this new type of fuel, i.e. practices spanning everything from its regenerative production to the actual filling process into vehicles. The project will furthermore examine the effectiveness of the facility and how efficient it is in terms of cost-benefit analysis.

The facility’s solar-panel surface (50 square metres in size) is used to generate the electricity which powers an electrolyser used to produce an electrochemical reaction which allows de-ionised water to be broken down into its separate components: hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen thus produced is subsequently cleansed and forwarded to a temporary storage unit, at which stage it has achieved the highest possible grade. After compression, the hydrogen is stored in a high-pressure unit, ready for filling into motor vehicles – a process which requires 400 bars of pressure.

The system can produce some 25 cubic metres of hydrogen each day, i.e. the amount needed to operate a fuel-cell vehicle over a distance of approx. 200 kilometres. One of the objectives being to increase the storage volume of hydrogen in vehicles and thus their fuel range, new storage technology is likewise being tested in Isenbüttel. Hydrogen production and storage are two critical elements along the road to achieving the long-term goal of providing customers emission-neutralised vehicles at standard market prices.

In another step along the way to ultimately introducing fuel cells to the market, a declaration of intent is to be co-signed by Solvis GmbH & Co KG and AutoVision GmbH at the launching ceremony. The companies will collaborate on founding a company for the development of fuel-cell components. Together, Solvis and AutoVision wish to devise components for use in fuel-cell vehicles and in energy systems for buildings.

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