Is hydrogen set to become the renewable and inexhaustible fuel of the
future? Scientists are studying two different approaches. One - the
fuel cell - is very advanced and in the development phase. The other
- the fusion of hydrogen nuclei - is in its infancy.
Unlike a conventional battery which "depletes" the electrochemical
reagents which generate current, a fuel cell generates electricity (and
also heat) and uses the reaction between constantly renewed hydrogen
(as fuel) and oxygen in the air (as oxidant) to produce water and release
electrons. Intensive industrial research is being conducted in Europe,
the United States and Japan on numerous variants on fuel cells both
for electric motors for cars and for new generations of heat and power
plants. This promising method of sustainable energy production should
make serious inroads into the market in the next decade or two.
The amazing objective of fusion is to reproduce in a controlled fashion
the gigantic process of energy production that takes place in the stars
through the fusion of hydrogen nuclei to form heavier helium nuclei.
For nearly four decades, Europe has invested massively in research into
this energy of the future which would provide a radical alternative
to the fossil resources which are gradually being exhausted. What is
more, it would not produce any polluting emissions or radioactive waste.
At present, fusion is the subject of a vast international cooperation
project (ITER) aimed at producing a first experimental reactor.
The battery of the future
A possible source of clean energy for vehicles of the future,
the fuel cell is also a promising alternative for industrial-scale
applications. As part of a European project, a consortium of German
and Danish companies has developed a new type of mobile generating
set capable of supplying heat and power.
Energy from the stars
At the forefront of international research, Europe's fusion know-how
has largely been built up thanks to massive investment in JET (Joint
European Torus) at Abingdon (United Kingdom). At this futuristic plant
successful experiments briefly produced fusion energy of up to