办事指南

Running on empty

点击量:   时间:2019-03-07 11:08:05

By Fred Pearce AN EXECUTIVE at the world’s third largest oil company last week consigned the internal combustion engine to the dustbin of history. According to Paul Histon, fuels technology manager of BP Amoco, the next century will belong to vehicles powered not by oil but by fuel cells running on hydrogen created by splitting water molecules. “If the motor car is to stay with us, we need to explore radical new ways to fuel it,” Histon told a seminar at the company’s laboratories in Sunbury, west of London. While the internal combustion engine is dramatically cleaner than a generation ago, Histon says it will nevertheless soon be struggling to meet stricter targets for reduced emissions of smoke, sulphur and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. “If we are truly to get big carbon dioxide reductions,” Histon says, “hydrogen is the best long-term choice.” It could be extracted from oil or natural gas—which would maintain a role for oil companies in their traditional form. But ideally the hydrogen would be derived from water, according to Histon. The key technology would be the development of hydrogen fuel cells (New Scientist, 1 May, p 20). Histon predicts that fuel cells could be twice as good as the best internal combustion engine in terms of fuel economy and CO 2 production. The benefit to the environment, however, will largely depend on how the electricity needed for the hydrolysis is generated, admits Bernie Bulkin, BP’s vice-president for environmental affairs. Using oil-fuelled generators would provide little gain. In his vision of a future “hydrogen economy”, the energy to create hydrogen from the electrolysis of water will come from cheap and greenhouse-friendly solar, hydroelectric and possibly nuclear sources. Histon predicts that, within a decade, we will be seeing a large number of highly efficient hybrid vehicles on our roads, which will use petrol-driven generators to feed power to batteries, for instance. But eventually, he believes, hydrogen fuel cells will take over. “Some people say by 2015—I think it will take a little longer,” he says. Switching to the new fuel technology would require a massive investment in new infrastructure, however. “We only want one big change,” he says, “If it’s going to be hydrogen, let’s get on and do it.” BP Amoco is one of several oil companies that have been repositioning themselves as “energy companies” and expanding their interests in alternative energy sources such as solar power. This follows the climate summit in Kyoto in 1997, which set targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicle exhausts account for up to half of the CO2 emissions in some industrialised countries. Greenpeace complains that the companies are still actively prospecting for new oil,