The concrete and steel-gated building on the outskirts of Reykjavik appears like any other Shell filling station, yet motorists shouldn’t drive up looking to top off with gas or diesel.Reykjavik, Iceland – May 20, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] In a ceremony last month, Icelandic government and international business leaders launched the world’s first hydrogen filling station opened at an existing gas station. The project, called the Ecological City Transport System (ECTOS), is supported by the European Union under its City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage program. Iceland now becomes the world’s first country to pledge the future of its society to this newly feasible source of energy. The country hopes one day – perhaps by 2050 – to eliminate the need for fossil fuels entirely. First to fuel up at the filling station about four miles east of the center of the city, was a prototype Mercedes-Benz Sprinter fuel cell van nicknamed “Anne.” During the demonstration, it quietly hissed like an air conditioner, emitting just a few drops of water vapor from the tailpipe. By the end of this year, three hydrogen-powered city buses manufactured by DaimlerChrysler with a range of 125 miles will be powered by compressed hydrogen. Initially the vehicles, four percent of the country’s mass transit system, will be tested for two years on the streets of Reykjavik. Assuming a positive outcome, the goal is to replace a larger number of Reykjavik city buses with hydrogen vehicles. Eventually, hydrogen-powered private vehicles, marine vessels and fishing boats will be introduced. “In time, what is happening in Iceland will show the rest of the world that hydrogen fuel is a real, commercial possibility that will lead to a cleaner, pollution-free environment,” Industry and Commerce Minister Valgerdur Sverrisdottir said at the opening ceremony. “We dream for a better world and better utilization of Renewable Energy resources in harmony with the environment.” The major partners in the venture are Icelandic New Energy, DaimlerChrysler, Norsk Hydro and Royal Dutch Shell. The European Union contributed $3.1 million of the $7.7 million cost of the project. Iceland was chosen for the project because 72 percent of its energy usage is generated from renewable sources, mainly geothermal or hydropower. The ECTOS station uses an electrolysis process on-site. This involves the application of a high-voltage charge to plain water, which splits the water into two parts hydrogen, which is stored in tanks, and one part oxygen, which is vented into the air. Iceland is considered the perfect test site for hydrogen power on a national scale for several reasons. First, the country has a population of about 281,000, with about two-thirds of the people living in or near Reykjavik. There are just 180,000 vehicles. Because of this scale, small projects have more impact than they would in larger societies. Iceland’s abundance of sustainable hydroelectric and geothermal energy also means the process of electrolyzing water molecules is less costly. During a hydrogen conference in the capital city that coincided with the filling station opening, Reykjavik Mayor Thorolfur Arnason told an estimated 260 attendees, “Reykjavik hopes to become the most sound, ecological capital city in the world. Pollution caused by transportation is a growing problem, one we hope to reduce with this first step toward a hydrogen economy.” “I’m not afraid of losing gasoline sales,” said oil company executive Jeroen van der Veer, president, Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. “I’ll feel very good if we eventually have the same market share in hydrogen as we have in gasoline. We are confident that in time, hydrogen can make a significant contribution to the global energy mix. The world is watching Iceland.” The cost of hydrogen is expected to be comparable with that of gasoline once hydrogen passenger vehicles become commonplace. The filling station was purposely placed in clear public view, rather than in a private bus depot, in order to make Icelanders, and eventually the world, feel more comfortable with eventually saying “filler up” with hydrogen.