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Beyond CO2: The health risks from fossil fuels

12th March 2018


Carbon dioxide levels are big news. This is for good reason: at 403.3 parts per million, there is more in the atmosphere than at any other point in the last three million years.

Hydrogen powered

12th March 2018

Hydrogen powered


Carbon dioxide levels are big news. This is for good reason: at 403.3 parts per million, there is more in the atmosphere than at any other point in the last three million years.

Although these levels are an undoubted concern - leading to rising sea levels and unpredictable weather patterns - the amount of fossil fuels being burnt in cities is also having a serious, but invisible, impact on public health.

This hydrogen week, it’s important to draw attention to this under-examined problem with the current fossil fuel economy. As companies and individuals, we need to start thinking about renewable energy in terms beyond carbon emissions and take responsibility for public health around us and the occupational safety of our workers.

The Crisis
Unlike the infamous pea soup that blanketed many British cities in the 1950s and 60s, our modern air crisis is nearly invisible. However, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, claim that this “invisible mix of diesel soot particles and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) [is] a different, but similarly dangerous proposition.”

Anywhere combustion occurs, whether it’s a car engine, a wood fire, or a diesel generator, there is a visible increase in pollutant levels. In fact, you can view these pollutants down to a 100m2 area here, highlighting the very measurable impact that fossil fuels are having on the air we breathe.

Indeed, CO2 is just one emission in a deadly cocktail of pollutants: small particulate matter which hang in the air and penetrate deep into the lungs, and nitrogen oxides (NOx), chemical by-products of combustion that cause serious respiratory problems.

These pollutants have a serious impact on public health. The Royal College of Physicians has suggested that every year, “40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution” and point to its role “in many of the major health challenges of our day” .

A Solution
The positive upside to this is that it’s much easier for individuals and organisations to have an impact on air quality when compared to the global CO2 crisis. Since the impacts are felt on such a localised level, we can make councils, businesses, and individuals accountable for the air quality in their surrounding areas.

One of the simplest ways to achieve this is by replacing fossil fuel consumption with lower emission alternatives. Hydrogen fuel cells are one such technology, combining bottled hydrogen with oxygen in the air to produce clean power. As a result, they emit no pollutants during use: the only by-product is pure water clean enough to drink.

This means that hydrogen power generation has no impact on air pollution levels at point of delivery, helping maintain a healthier environment for local residents as well as the workers who use these machines every day.

As a result, we are increasingly seeing hydrogen fuel cells in our cities. What once seemed like science fiction - creating clean energy with water as the only emission – has now become a science without fiction. In fact, it now forms the backbone of the ‘hydrogen economy’, a new, hydrogen-fuelled energy infrastructure led by London and Aberdeen. London now boasts entirely hydrogen-powered bus routes, and many cities and motorways are installing the vital fuelling stations needed to allow wider adoption of hydrogen vehicles.

Hydrogen offers a particularly suitable replacement to many situations where combustion is currently used - it is easily transportable and instantly refillable, making it similar to conventional liquid fuel options. Like LPG or natural gas, it isn’t an explosive and is stored in robust containers that can survive bumps and knocks. Furthermore, unlike petrol and diesel, it is considerably lighter than air and rapidly disperses meaning the risk of explosion and fire is low. As a result, it’s perfect for vehicles and in generators where mains power isn’t available.

As this technology reaches maturity, it is being rolled out over a number of different applications, from generators to cars, and even miniaturised for use in drones . TCP’s partner, BOC, A Member of the Linde Group, is continuing to develop new markets where this gas can be used, helping to bring the prospect of cleaner air to communities across the UK.

What you can do
So, this Hydrogen Week, why not think about the steps you can take to ensure cleaner air in your area? With the hydrogen economy ever growing, you might be surprised with the range of green solutions available.

For example, TCP offers a range of standalone power generators, lighting towers, and even CCTV masts, which boast cutting edge technologies to match the hydrogen fuel cells that power them. As well as being zero-emission at source, they run silently, require minimal maintenance and offer a compelling price point compared to traditional options.

If you work or live around machinery running on diesel, speak to your site manager or local council about the steps that they’re taking to improve air quality - we can all work together to ensure clean air and a healthy future.

The recent BOC feature on London Live’s ‘Making it Big in London’ focuses on air pollution and how hydrogen energy could help clean up the capital, showing some of the technology which has already been put to work.

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/30/global-atmospheric-co2-levels-hit-record-high
  2. https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/news/blog-every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution
  3. https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution
  4. http://www.hydrogenlondon.org/projects/london-hydrogen-bus-project/
  5. https://www.boconline.co.uk/internet.lg.lg.gbr/en/images/606425-H2%20GENIE%20safety%20guide_03410_410076.pdf?v=2.0
  6. http://www.intelligent-energy.com/uploads/product_docs/UAV_brochure_web_double_page_view.pdf
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