Greenland, Iceland set to become hydrogen fuel leaders

Water, wind and geothermal energy produce “the new oil” in the Nordic countries


A cleaner planet, where global warming is under control and the world’s energy needs are met – that’s the vision for the year 2030 that Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland are pursuing.

Iceland and Greenland plan to do this through the development of hydrogen fuel, “the new oil” of the 21st century.

To produce hydrogen fuel, all you need is water and a basic source of power to help break water down into its elements, hydrogen and oxygen.

Hydrogen, when compressed, makes an efficient fuel: it can be used with fuel cells to power vehicles; it can provide electricity and heat; and it can turn renewable energies, such as solar, geothermal, hydro-electric or wind power, into a stored energy source.

This all sounds very attractive to Johan Lund Olsen, Greenland’s minister for industry, energy, agriculture and labour, who sees a bright future ahead for hydrogen and hydrogen production.

“We want to bring down our dependence on oil,” Lund says.

Some day, larger versions of the “pill” that Lund is holding may store and supply power to fuel cells in vehicles, ships, railways, aircraft, cell phones and computers, replacing conventional batteries and fuels.

Fuel cells have been around for a long time, but storing hydrogen to power them has always been a problem. But Lund’s pill, recently developed in Denmark, contains an amount of energy equal to that found in a regular 50-litre gas tank.

Now, Greenland is looking at a switch to hydrogen fuel because it’s locally available in great quantities.

That’s because hydrogen can be produced on Greenland’s ice cap, where there’s huge hydroelectric potential, or by using excess energy from the hydro-electric plant in Kangerluarsunnguaq near Nuuk – and there’s no lack of water in Greenland either.

Because Greenland can’t use all its energy locally, Lund says. So “some can be used to make hydrogen. It’s very simple.”

Switching to hydrogen will also be good for reducing greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming, because, unlike fossil fuels such as oil, coal or gas, hydrogen fuel is not burned to produce power. It uses a simple electro-chemical reaction, which allows a fuel cell to operate quietly, efficiently and virtually pollution-free.

Iceland already has two non-polluting hydrogen buses in its Ecological City Transport System, which produce puffs of steam instead of exhaust.

Lund says Greenland can, moreover, look towards becoming a major hydrogen producer.

The European Union is putting 300-million Euros (about half a billion dollars) into developing “a hydrogen economy,” and, by 2030, the Nordic countries want hydrogen to provide 18 per cent of their energy needs. The Nordic Council, the parliamentary co-operation body for the Nordic countries, is pumping another seven-million Danish krøner (about $1.5 million) into Arctic research.

Greenland is positioning itself to be in the middle of the development of this new economy, Lund says, by constructing a third hydro-electric project, and smaller hydro plants near Sisimiut and Paamiut.

“We have a potential to make our own energy, up to 13,000 kilowatt-hours a year (enough to keep 13,000 40-watt light bulbs on for a full day) near cities,” Lund says.

But he says producing hydrogen fuel and developing hydro-electric power is just “part of the puzzle” of making Greenland self-sufficient in energy.

Wind and solar energy projects in southern Greenland, in partnership with Iceland, are also in the plan.

Although these projects are relatively inexpensive, the Nordic countries, through their membership in the Nordic Council, contribute money for research and development and encourage cooperation between members. The idea is to promote an energy market without borders, which will have a high degree of security and be environmentally friendly.

Greenland is also working with Iceland to locate possible thermal energy sources. So far, 200 potential “hot spots” have been found in Greenland.

Working with Iceland is natural, because Iceland is a world leader in developing geo-thermal energy, which flows under the many volcanoes that dot the island. Until the 1930s, Icelanders used this ample source of natural hot water mainly for laundry and bathing.

Iceland now taps the underground hot water reserves to produce steam. This steam pushes turbines that make electricity. As steam from this hot water is busy making electricity, it also runs through pipes that warm nearly all of Iceland’s homes, and heats the greenhouses that provide 80 per cent of the tomatoes and cucumbers that Icelanders eat.

Greenland also mounted public campaigns for energy conservation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We can see the consequences of climate change,” Lund says. “The hunters can see and touch it, so it makes people very aware. There is a need to take action right now and start up the whole process as quick as possible.”

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