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The hydrogen economy

Mr Colin Chapman, Dr Joseph McCarney, Raymond Holland and Dr Ian Donaldson

This item first appeared in 2008

Event review: the potential for hydrogen as an energy source

On 27 March 2008, SCI’s Bristol and South West Regional Group hosted an event entitled ‘The Hydrogen Economy’. The talk was given by Dr Joseph McCarney from Johnson Matthey, and was designed to give the audience a flavour of the (energy) future, and how hydrogen could be used as a major contributor to the UK’s energy production, the current situation and likely obstacles that energy producers will face. Hydrogen is not difficult to come by (although it is difficult to store) as a great deal is produced as a by-product from other chemical production.

Dr McCarney first outlined the difficulty in persuading both companies and individuals to change their perception of fuel consumption. Fossil fuels are unlikely to ever run out completely — market forces will drive prices up until their cost becomes astronomical — and for the foreseeable future they will continue to be our primary source of energy. This means, with escalating requirements, the UK is becoming increasingly reliant on the Middle East.

The major problem facing the transition away from fossil fuels, is that the technology is too expensive and no organisation is willing to move until others do so. Ideally, the government would need to take the first step, as any investment that they put in can be used to engineer economies of scale and ultimately bring the cost of hydrogen technology down.

Dr McCarney gave an interesting and logical talk that kept the audience interested throughout. The Bristol Group booked Dr McCarney 18 months in advance for this event, and he himself was the first to point out that in even that relatively short period, the interest and publicity concerning the use of hydrogen had dwindled as the public focus moved on to other sources of energy, such as hybrid technologies and renewable energies in the form of hydroelectricity and wind power.

This, however, did not make the talk any less interesting, and Dr McCarney proved to be a knowledgeable and coherent speaker for an audience made up of both chemists and non-chemists. Once again, the good work from the Bristol and South West Group, with particular mention of their Honorary Secretary, Raymond Holland, has resulted in an excellent, well-attended lecture that truly encapsulated the current topic of energy consumption. The Bristol Group has offered a great medium for local scientists to listen and discuss with an expert, a topic that is particularly relevant to modern society.

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