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14 May 2010

Berlin Rallies for a Tricky Oil Alternative

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Energy and auto companies promote the hydrogen solution in Germany

The motley collection of buses, limos, and cars that rolled out of Berlin this morning under a gray sky all had one thing in common: Nothing but steam coming out of their tailpipes.

From a BMW luxury sedan to Toyota sport utility vehicles, the cars that pulled out of a fueling station in downtown Berlin were all powered from the fuel found in the brand-new pumps alongside the diesel and gasoline. The vehicles were tanked up on hydrogen, a zero-emissions fuel source that’s struggling to get off the ground in Europe and the United States.

The rally ran 180 miles (290 kilometers) from Berlin to Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city. Organized by a coalition of auto and energy companies, the idea was to convince the German public that hydrogen will be a viable, green fuel source for cars, buses, and trucks.

It’s all part of an ambitious effort to build support for a network of hydrogen fueling stations across Germany. Called the Clean Energy Partnership, the group hopes to have more than 1,000 fueling stations in operation by 2020. Since it began in 2002, the CEP has grown to include 13 companies, including automakers BMW, Daimler, Ford, GM, Volkswagen, Toyota, the Berlin and Hamburg public transport systems, Shell, Statoil, TOTAL, and a variety of German and Norwegian engineering companies involved in building fueling stations.

The Clean Energy Partnership is also being supported by the German government, which plans to invest 740 million euros ($940 million) in hydrogen and electric cars over the next decade.

Starting with hydrogen fueling stations in Germany’s biggest cities—first Berlin, and now the port city of Hamburg—the coalition hopes to overcome a problem that has plagued hydrogen advocates for years. Before energy companies invest in special hydrogen fueling stations, which can each cost millions of dollars to design and build, they need to know there will be customers for the technology. At the same time, customers are unlikely to buy cars if they are unsure there will be a way to fill them up.

(National Geographic)

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