Fuel cell bus

Credits: © DaimlerChyrsler

The NEBUS (New Electric Bus), developed by Germany's Daimler Benz - now DaimlerChrysler - is the first fuel cell-powered bus to use hydrogen as the source of fuel. Trials on the use of such buses are now taking place around the world.

The need to reduce engine emissions, which are warming up the global greenhouse, together with the decline in oil supplies, is forcing the automobile industry to think of new ways to power vehicles. One solution is to replace the internal combustion engine, running on petrol or diesel, with fuel cell-powered vehicles running on hydrogen. Hydrogen is one of the most promising energy carriers for the future. It is a high-efficiency, low polluting fuel that can be used for transportation, heating and power generation in places where it is difficult to use electricity.

The fuel cell engine works by creating electricity from hydrogen and oxygen in the air, through an electro-chemical process that forms only water and heat as by-products. The hydrogen can be stored on the vehicle or extracted through thermochemical processes from natural gas methanol, gasoline or ethanol or other hydrogen carriers. The development of fuel cells - silent, environmentally benign electrochemical engines that already provide electrical power for the space shuttle - is now being backed with major funding in the United States, and elsewhere. Iceland is already poised to become the world's first hydrogen economy. But much will depend on finding ways of manufacturing hydrogen with minimum pollution, and developing safe and economical ways of distributing and using it.

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