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Fill 'Er Up ... With Hydrogen?

A filling station for hydrogen-powered vehicles, said to be the first in the world, opened Thursday in Iceland.

"In time, what is happening in Iceland will show to the rest of the world that hydrogen fuel is a real, commercial possibility that will lead to a cleaner, pollution-free environment," Industry Minister Valgerdir Sverrisdottir said at an opening ceremony on Iceland's official First Day of Summer.

She opened the station by filling up a hydrogen-powered Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, a prototype product of a European Union-backed program.

The major partners in the venture are Icelandic New Energy, DaimlerChrysler, Norsk Hydro and Royal Dutch Shell.

Iceland was chosen for the project because 90 per cent of its electricity is generated geothermically or from hydropower.

The European Union contributed $3.1 million of the $7.7 million cost of the project.

In August, three DaimlerChrysler hydrogen-powered buses will be introduced and tested for two years in Reykjavik. Each bus will have a range of about 125 miles before it needs refueling.

Another hydrogen station is set to open in Hamburg, Germany, in May and others will follow in major cities in the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, Belgium and Sweden.

"It is an important stepping stone along the long road to a commercially viable hydrogen future. We are confident that in time, hydrogen can make a significant contribution to the global energy mix," said Jeroen van der Veer, vice president of the committee of managing directors of Royal Dutch Shell.

"But none of us expect overnight success. Despite the years of hard work, and the existence of hydrogen fuel cell technology for decades, we are in a real sense at the very beginning of the hydrogen economy story."

Norway's Norsk Hydro developed the hydrogen electrolyzers that use electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms. When used in a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen again combine, and water is the only exhaust product.

Professor Bragi Arnason, head of chemistry at the University of Iceland's Science Institute, said the nation's fishing fleet could be running on hydrogen within 25 years.

"Using hydrogen, from renewable geothermal water in Iceland, is really only the first step towards a pollutant-free environment," Arnason said.

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