Hydrogen Technology 

Electromobility does not only mean the use of a Battery Electric Vehicle, but it also includes all sorts of mobility which makes use of electric drive trains and which in turn, the electricity used can be produced by a number of different sources of energy including renewable ones. Anything that uses an electric motor and a battery or fuel cell, falls under the definition of electromobility.

This includes Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology. As of today, Hydrogen can be produced from a number of processes including natural gas through a process called steam reformation. This is done by reacting steam with natural gas and, in the process, extracting Hydrogen from both compounds. Another process is the reformation of Bio-methane which can be captured from landfills.

The marriage of Hydrogen and renewable sources of energy offers a unique opportunity. In fact, Hydrogen is the missing link to the widespread use of using renewable sources of energy. When energy is generated using solar power or wind, the recurring problem is that the energy is intermittent, meaning that it must be used when the sun is out or when the wind is blowing.

Unfortunately however, energy is not always available when there is the demand for it, which means that the energy must be stored if it is to be of any value. Conventional batteries have limited storage capacities and up till now are very expensive to produce and it is here, where H2 can solve the problem.

Today, nanotech companies are working on solar cells which dramatically improve efficiency while cutting down on costs. When electricity from renewable energy is converted to Hydrogen it can be stored and used as energy and hence it can be used when it is needed. When that happens on a large scale, then it will be the main competitor of fossil fuels.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe; it powers all of the stars including our Sun. Hydrogen is everywhere to the extent that over 90% of the atoms in the universe are Hydrogen atoms. Add oxygen and you have water, add carbon and it is a basic building block of life. In its pure state, Hydrogen can be a clean, safe and a very powerful fuel.

Billions of Euros are currently being invested to develop the technology. Hydrogen is not an energy source in itself, like coal or oil, but is a manufacturer of fuel like gas oil and electricity. We can use renewable sources of energy such as solar power and wind energy to split molecules of water; of hydrogen and oxygen and then using Hydrogen as a transport fuel and even as domestic and industrial fuel.

In the meantime, research is also being made in fuel cell propulsion systems, not just in passenger cars and buses but also in larger transporters. For example, the German Navy submarine, the U31, uses nine fuel cells for propulsion which run on Hydrogen while it also produces electricity for the command and control systems and in the process generates fresh water for the use of the crew.

The technology can also be used in ships and locomotive trains. Recently, the Helios aircraft became the first aircraft to use Hydrogen by using a light propulsion system enabled by solar panels and Hydrogen and fuel cells, flying at an altitude for observation of over 65,000 ft. This was followed by another unmanned aircraft project, headed by NASA, called Global Observatory.

The electrification of transport is the solution to achieve a viable and sustainable future transport system. Transport Malta has long believed that the future of transportation lies in the electrification of transport, where Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology will power the larger electric drive trains used for trucks and buses while Battery Electric Vehicles will power passenger cars.

In this regard, the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure together with Transport Malta will pursue future technology developments and facilitate demonstration and lighthouse projects accordingly and is proposing the setting up of a specific unit within the MNEP following a Malta National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Innovation Programme (MNHFCTIP) for which preparations can get underway by partnering with future potential partners.

This will be part of the Malta National Electromobility Action Plan which will step up its efforts to promote battery and all-electric drive technologies. Following other technological developments in Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology applications for the maritime transport sector in the past few years, the Government of Malta will also follow the development of Fuel Cell Technology in the maritime sector with similar demonstration projects that were carried out in Amsterdam and in Birmingham, such as the demonstration project of the Ross Barlow canal barge project, should technology continue to develop in this direction.

Unlike similar National Development Plans of other countries, where electromobility is limited to road transport, our MNEAP and its vision will cut across as many modes as possible, including maritime vessel/crafts that can be used in coastal waters, passenger cars, motorbikes and pedalecs, vans, trucks, mini buses, buses and other modes that are propelled by electricity.