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Fill it up, please - with hydrogen!

But, from this month, this will become a familiar sight in the heart of the capital as a hydrogen fuel station is scheduled to open at Yonsei University, Seoul, in mid-September.

Several others are also likely to be put into operation in Seoul on a trial basis by the year’s end, though South Korea is in it’s nascent stage compared with other advanced countries such as the United States, Japan and the European Union. Experts and industry sources hope that the new filling stations will provide a new momentum for leading local carmakers including Hyundai Motor and researchers that are developing cars designed to run on hydrogen fuel cells.

New chapter
According to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy (MOCIE) last week, GS Caltex has been building a hydrogen fuel station with a total floor space of 522 square meters at Yonsei University’s Shinchon Campus since March. Located beside the main road in the direction of Yeonhi-dong, the station is currently being tested ahead of the completion of construction, which officials say is in the final stage. A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device, producing electricity from external supplies of fuel and oxidant. Many combinations of fuel and oxidant are possible.

A hydrogen cell, for example, uses hydrogen as fuel and oxygen as oxidant. At the refueling station, hydrogen is produced from naphtha and stored in a high-pressure chamber that could dispense it into fuel cell motor vehicles. This process is seen as a possible way to cut the quantity of global greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. Water is the only emission from the exhaust pipe of a hydrogen-powered car - there are no carbon dioxide, particulate or sulfur emissions. It is the clean-burn nature of the process that is drawing interest of a growing number of carmakers and energy companies.

SK Energy and GS Caltex, the country’s major refiners, are also engaged in the hydrogen project, managed by the National RD&D Organization for Hydrogen & Fuel Cell and supported by the MOCIE and the Korea Energy Management Corporation. South Korea’s first hydrogen fueling station opened in August last year at the Korea Institute of Energy Research in Daejeon. But the one now under construction at Yonsei University will be the first such station in the urban center of Seoul.

Hyundai Motor’s research institutes, which have been developing fuel cell cars, have so far conducted test-drives of the company’s hydrogen motor vehicles only in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, due to the lack of refilling stations in Seoul. „We are very proud to be leading the van of the hydrogen station project,” a GS Caltex spokesman said.

„We hope that we can open up a new chapter for the development of fuel cell cars with the No. 1 hydrogen fuel station in Seoul.” In addition to those in Daejeon and Seoul, two more hydrogen stations will open by the end of this year - one in the LNG base of the Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS) in Songdo, Incheon, and the other in the SK Research Center in Daejeon.

Global competition
The „hydrogen economy” is no longer a strange term only heard of in science-fiction (SF) films. Hydrogen stations are an essential part of infrastructure for the commercialization of fuel cell cars, which form the core part of the hydrogen economy. However, South Korea still lags behind in the global competition for the hydrogen economy behind other advanced nations including the United States, Japan, Canada and a number of European countries such as Germany, Iceland and Norway.

Since 1999, when Ford and Air Products set up the first hydrogen station in North America in Michigan, filling stations offering hydrogen have been opening worldwide. As of 2006, the number of hydrogen stations is estimated at around 150. „South Korea falls behind its rivals in North America and Europe in the race,” said Yoo Young-sik, a researcher at the institute in Daejeon. „Now relevant laws and regulations should also be prepared for the development of hydrogen technologies.” (petrolplaza)