The hot air highway

The flurry of news items and press releases on Friday referring to a ‘hydrogen highway’ were rather confusing. And that’s not just because the phrase is rather vague, meaning-light publicist-speak.

In the beginning, there was a trio of press releases: one from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills;

South Wales was named as leading centre in the UK for hydrogen energy with South West as a key partner and with £6.3m of funding through the University of Glamorgan…. Energy Minister Lord Hunt highlighted how the South Wales LCEA will build on the expertise in the area to develop hydrogen on a commercial basis. It would also be closely linked to end users based on the M4 corridor.

Another from the Department of Energy & Climate Change;

UK capabilities in hydrogen were further boosted today as the Government created the sixth Low Carbon Economic Area (LCEA). It will be focused in South Wales, with close cooperation extending as far as Swindon in the South West. As part of this, the University of Glamorgan announced that it is investing £6.3m to develop new processes, products and services as part of the CymruH2Wales project. It will create 23 new research staff over the next three years and a further 63 permanent jobs in hydrogen energy.

And yet another from the Technology Strategy Board that did little more than repeat the words from the other two, though with much of the content removed, leaving an empty carcass of jargon.

By providing capital funding towards the cost of demonstration, this important programme will enable British companies to collaborate to commercialise fuel cell and hydrogen technologies. Covering both the transport and stationary market applications, the funding will support and take forward already successful research, development and prototyping projects. We expect the technologies that will be developed and demonstrated to make real progress towards market adoption, providing significant global opportunities for the British companies involved.

Note that apart from it being the location of Johnson Matthey Fuel Cellsmanufacturing facility factory in Swindon, there’s little of substance about the south west in all of this. The focus is very much on south Wales, where the University of Glamorgan’s press release made clear the extent of any ‘hydrogen highway’.

The money will be used to build a new hydrogen, natural gas and biomethane vehicle refueling facility at the University’s Pontypridd campus as well as further developing the existing alternative refueling facilities at its Hydrogen Centre in Baglan. These facilities will not only support the hydrogen and alternative vehicle drive train research and development work of the University, but will be the initial steps for the creation of a broader alternative refuelling infrastructure along the M4 corridor in Wales.

Now, unless there’s been a rather major secret redrawing of the principality’s boundaries, Swindon is not in ‘the M4 corridor in Wales’.

But as the day progressed, the Welsh border seemed to creep ever eastwards. First there was a tweet from Brunel fm.

Swindon is to become a hub for hydrogen technology research after a government cash boost – the M4’s to become a ‘hydrogen highway’.

Which is correct, if a little misleading, as mention of the ‘hydrogen highway’ being restricted to Wales has gone. Next it was the turn of the government’s representative in south Swindon, Ms Snelgrove.

According to today’s announcement from the Government, in partnership with the South West Regional Development agency, the new Low Carbon Economic Area (LCEA) will stretch through South Wales and across the South West.

Err… no. The announcement of an LCEA for South West England was made on 15 July 2009. Nice to see that the old habit or reannouncing old news as new is alive and well in government circles. Finally came Swindonweb with a version of the story of which the politicians would be proud with the ‘hydrogen highway’ extending all the way to Swindon.

The M4 motorway from junction 15 to South Wales is to become Britain’s first ‘hydrogen highway’, with strategically placed refuelling points along the route for hydrogen fuelled and electric cars.

Someone refill that car with two gallons of electricity please! South Wales is nearer than we think….