M4 in Wales to be 'hydrogen highway,' say ministers
What is a hydrogen powered vehicle like to drive?
The M4 in south Wales is to become a "hydrogen highway", with alternative energy refuelling points, Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, has announced.
The scheme, to extend into south west England, is aimed at making hydrogen and electric-powered vehicles a viable alternative to petrol-driven machines.
Under the plan, Wales will lead in developing alternative fuels, including hydrogen from renewable sources.
The aim is to create an extensive renewable refuelling infrastructure.
It shows that Wales is prepared to take the lead in this area, which is something we can proud of
Gordon James, Friends of the Earth Cymru
Hydrogen has long been touted as an alternative energy source to carbon-rich fossil fuels.
One of the biggest obstacles to wider adoption of fuel-cell vehicles is the lack of hydrogen fuelling stations.
To be used as a fuel, hydrogen must first be produced using another energy source.
While some scientists are hopeful of the fuel uses of hydrogen, many others are sceptical because it is inefficient to produce and expensive to transport and to convert into electricity.
Ministers Peter Hain and Jane Davidson with a hydrogen van at the launch
Wales has been designated a Low Carbon Economic Area (LCEA) for hydrogen and low carbon fuel technologies such as natural gas and bio-methane.
In collaboration with south west England and other regions, the M4 is set to become the UK's longest "hydrogen highway," with a range of alternative refuelling points at strategic sites.
The aim is for refuelling points in Wales to link with similar filling points proposed for Swindon and London, extending to the Midlands.
The assembly government also hopes making the M4 into a hydrogen highway by as early as 2015 will attract investment from all sectors of the motoring industry.
Supporters see the provision of electric plug-in facilities, hydrogen, compressed natural gas and bio-methane-filling points as an essential first stage in stimulating the alternative fuels market in transport.
The aim is that with the filling points catering for existing low-carbon vehicles, Wales will be in a prime location as they provide a springboard for alternative vehicle development and enable vehicle manufacturers to demonstrate and validate the technology in the UK.
Wales already has two multi-fuel filling facilities in south Wales, at Baglan and Treforest.
Gordon James, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, welcomed the scheme but said it was key that renewable energy was used to make the hydrogen and provide the electricity of the electric vehicle charging points.
He said: "This is excellent news. It will help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions for the transport sector which is responsible for about 12% of carbon dioxide emissions in Wales.
"It will also help develop the green economy in Wales. It shows that Wales is prepared to take the lead in this area, which is something we can proud of.
"Following last year's scrapping of plans to build the Gwent Levels motorway, this shows that we are moving in the right direction."
Environment Minister Jane Davidson and Welsh Secretary Peter Hain launched the hydrogen highway scheme.
Linked to the announcement, the University of Glamorgan is to invest more than £6m to develop new low-carbon technologies including a hydrogen engine test facility at Baglan, Port Talbot, just off the M4.
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