Mainstreaming the Alternative (ESA)

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eyglo02_dlMy husband and I have different ideas on how to replace our trusty old Honda when its days are numbered; I’m keen on buying a vehicle which runs on methane—I love the idea of driving on energy processed from trash—while he would like to go electric.

But we do agree to look for a more environmentally friendly solution once we have to buy a new car. And suddenly options are plentiful with prospects of all sorts of locally-produced alternative fuel hitting the market soon.

Actually, it is already possible to fill up on methane at a few locations in Reykjavík and at some parking lots you can plug in your car if it runs on electricity.

Also, some of the capital’s buses and garbage trucks are fueled by methane and a hydrogen car is currently being tested in Iceland.

But the nationwide availability is still somewhat limited which is why I presume consumers have been hesitant to switch their vehicles, or at least amend them, to try out alternative fuel resources.

The interest is certainly there, if not for environmental reasons, commuters are sick of the ever-growing prices for gasoline and diesel fuel and would warmly welcome cheaper options.

Iceland has the potential to become a leader in the use of alternative fuel for transport, both because of the small size of the population (320,000) and the varied options the country has in producing green energy; Iceland’s electricity, for example, comes almost exclusively from renewable resources, hydro and geothermal.

This spring it was announced that American AMP Electric Vehicles (AMP EV) had teamed up with Iceland’s Northern Lights Energy (NLE) on marketing electric SUVs in Iceland.

“We have 50 Icelandic companies and government offices, including the Ministry for the Environment, signed up to host electric vehicle charging and to convert their fleets to 100 percent electric vehicles and their expectations are high. In my opinion, this AMP EV will meet and exceed all expectations,” said Gísli Gíslason, chairman and CEO of NLE, in a statement.

At the same time, Icelandic fuel company N1 announced that it had invested tens of ISK tens of millions in the experimental cultivation of rapeseed, which has been ongoing for three years.

CEO of N1 Hermann Gudmundsson told Fréttabladid that studies indicate rapeseed cultivation is feasible all around the country but the Eyjafjördur region (in the north) and south Iceland showed the best results. It is believed possible to grow 15,000-20,000 tons of rapeseed in Iceland annually.

A few days earlier, farmer Ólafur Eggertsson at Thorvaldseyri in south Iceland, a pioneer in rapeseed cultivation, handed over 500 liters of oil which he pressed from rapeseed in the autumn of 2010 for experimental fuel production at the biodiesel company Lífdísill.

He considered the event a milestone. “This is the first time that a farmer has transported oil from the countryside to the town to have it changed into fuel for diesel engines.”

Meanwhile, as reported in Fréttabladid in July, the number of methane-run vehicles in Iceland has doubled in the past 18 months, and is now approaching 600.

Einar Vilhjálmsson, marketing director of methane company Metan, pointed out that the interest in using methane instead of fossil fuels is steadily increasing in the country; a recent survey by Capacent concluded that 85 percent of respondents are interested in methane.

The first power plant in Iceland which will use biological waste to produce methane is scheduled to open by the end of next year.

The pork producer Stjörnugrís and energy company Metanorka are planning to use waste from Stjörnugrís’s pork farm at Melar in Melasveit, west Iceland, to produce methane which could power up to 1,000 vehicles.

As for other developments, Landsvirkjun, the national power company, and Icelandic-American Carbon Recycling International (CRI) are studying the possibility of building a renewable methanol plant next to the geothermal power plant at Krafla in northeast Iceland.

At full capacity, the methanol plant would produce more than 100 million liters annually of renewable methanol, a clean burning high octane fuel for cars, using only carbon dioxide (CO2), water and renewable energy from the Krafla plant. The process would eliminate 45,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year.

CRI has already completed the construction of its first renewable methanol plant—the first of its kind in the world—at Svartsengi in southwest Iceland in cooperation with HS Orka. The plant will start production in the fall of 2011. 

Backing all these initiatives is Graena orkan (“The Green Energy”), a cluster project at the Ministry of Industry aiming to increase the share of eco-friendly domestic energy resources in transport in Iceland at the cost of imported fossil fuels. The ministry has promised to prioritize the project this coming winter.

So even though the ultimate transition from fossil to alternative fuels is taking some time, hopefully we don’t have to wait much longer before alternative goes mainstream.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – eyglo@icelandreview.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.