måndag 28 april 2008

Is domestic fuel production feasible?

Swedish scientist Bengt Steen of Chalmers University pretends to produce a renewable fuel, by letting hydrogen react with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The hydrogen is to be produced from solar power, wind power or hydro power. Moreover, the technology is to be small-scale, housed in a container no larger than a refrigerator. An ambitious idea, but is it economically feasible?
Well, at least Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra) has some trust in the idea. Mistra will provide 4 MSek (approx. USD700000) of funding for the project.

Steen says that the small scale is "more" sustainable than current energy technology. But is small-scale fuel generation really sustainable? Or is the beauty of the concept more related to the somewhat utopist idea of everyone being energy independent?

This project still is at a very early stage, so it’s hard to comment on the financial aspects of this project. But small scale applications are often inefficient compared to larger scale ones. Further on, from a material point of view it is in many cases a waste of resources to produce a large number of small units for home users, than to assemble central plants. This is the case of many small-scale energy applications, such as anaerobic digestion, solar power and wind power.

Small scale may sound beautiful, but will it be sufficiently cost-efficient? Steen has an interesting challenge. Still, even if consumers would make a net profit from domestic production, this concept could still find a market in Sweden. Interest in domestic energy supply is high, as shown by a recent study. 68% of the persons asked reply that they are “very interested” in generating their own power (or own shares in wind power plants). Some legal obstacles remain however.

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