When Green Wombat was in Australia recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Sukhvinder Badwal, a fuel-cell scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO. Badwal leads a team that is developing a solar-powered home hydrogen fueling station that can be installed in a corner of your garage. My story on the hydrogen fueling station appears in the current issue of Business 2.0 and online at CNNMoney.com. The piece is part of a package of Business 2.0 stories headlined "8 Technologies for a Green Future" and "Go Green, Get Rich." I’ll be highlighting a few of those technologies in subsequent posts.
Back to the Australian home hydrogen-fueling station. It’s about the size of a filing cabinet and runs on electricity generated by standard-issue rooftop solar panels. The first version of the home fueling station is expected to produce enough hydrogen to give your runabout a range of nearly 100 miles (150 kilometers) without producing a molecule of greenhouse gas. The solar-fired fuel-station-in-a-box overcomes two big obstacles to the much-hyped hydrogen economy. One is the multibillion-dollar expense of building national networks of pipelines and fuel stations to replace the corner Chevron (CVX). The other is the fact that today most hydrogen is produced by burning fossil fuel to create hydrogen gas—not exactly a clean and green process. The home hydrogen fuel station solves those problems in one package that Badwal hopes will ultimately sell for about $500. Commercial trials are expected to begin in two years.
Honda (HMC) also has been working a solar-powered hydrogen fuel station (photo at right) in Southern California that is designed to provide heat and electricity for the house as well as fuel for cars. Honda spokesperson Chris Martin told Green Wombat that solar hydrogen station is still being refined and the company has not yet announced a time table for the commercialization of the technology.
For Badwal, using renewable energy – solar panels or a small wind turbine – is key. Much of the focus on hydrogen cars has been in the West, with automakers BMW, DaimlerChrysler (DCX) Ford (F), General Motors (GM) and Toyota (TM) all developing fuel-cell vehicles. But Badwal believes the real impact of the home fueling technology could be in China and India, where efforts to combat global warming could be doomed by the explosion in the car-buying middle classes. "Once we factor in the growth rate in China and India, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuel becomes quite uncontrollable," said Badwal, a soft-spoken scientist who works out of a sparsely furnished office at CSIRO’s research facility in Melbourne. He sees the potential for CSIRO’s hydrogen technology to be distributed to villages in the developing world, eliminating the need for big, expensive and dirty coal-fired plants. "Every country has renewable energy. China and India might make the leap in energy like they’re doing with mobile phones," Badwal says. "This is a leap frog technology."