HL Deb 17 June 1993 vol 546 cc1659-60

Viscount Hanworth asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that British industry will be able to compete in future in the manufacture of fuel cells, in view of the substantial sums being spent on their development by the Americans and the Japanese.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, a collaborative research and development programme for advanced fuel cells was established by the DTI in April last year to provide a focus for United Kingdom fuel cell interests. It is helping industry to assess this technology, contributing to its development and promoting collaboration with both the research community and with programmes elsewhere.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that already in Japan there is an 11 megawatt fuel cell generating station? Does she agree that the fuel cell will almost certainly become very important for several uses before the end of this century? Has she received information that the Americans recently claimed to have produced a plastic which will reduce the cost of fuel cells by 80 per cent. or more? Finally, does she recognise that I am anxious that we should be in a position to capitalise on this technology when the time comes?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to tell the noble Viscount that we do indeed agree with him on the importance of this technology. That is why we started our programme. I am well aware of developments in the United States and also in Japan, many of which are driven by their need to reduce reliance on fuel imports. It is estimated that total funding for fuel cells in Europe from both government and industry is broadly on a par with that in the United States and Japan

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the first manned landing on the moon had its auxiliary power provided by hydrogen/oxygen fuel cells designed by Tom Bacon, now a Fellow of the Royal Society? He was supported by what is now the British Technology Group. There is no lack of skill in this country.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am delighted to confirm to the noble Earl that that is indeed the case. We recognise the work that has been done. I also recognise that my depth of knowledge on this subject will never match his.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that fuel cells have a great potential in transportation, particularly in public transportation, since they would reduce pollution and, it is to be hoped, be cheaper, silent and environmentally friendly? Are the Government taking this into account in making an allocation of money for development?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

Yes, indeed, my Lords. We believe that as an alternative to the internal combustion engine fuel cell technology has much to offer. We are looking at both that and other areas where small scale efficiency, coupled with quiet operation and low emissions, bring great benefit. That is why we are staying alongside the programme and why, indeed, we doubled expenditure on the programme this year.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, will the noble Baroness indicate whether there is collaborative research on fuel cells within the European Community?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, as the noble Lord points out, this is not an area in which national governments should work alone. I am pleased to say that under the last European Community JOULE round, 10 of the 17 fuel cell projects recommended for support and some £10 million of public funding involved at least one United Kingdom participant.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, fuel cell technology may not yet have inflamed the collective imagination of noble Lords, but does the Minister agree that the potential is of enormous importance? Does she further agree that it is, as an energy, pollution free? Is she aware that the Japanese have already begun to power, heat and ventilate office buildings with fuel cell technology? Would it not be an excellent beginning and example if government buildings—perhaps starting with the Minister's department—were also powered by fuel cell technology?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I cannot totally agree with the noble Lord because if that were to be done at extra cost to the taxpayer I certainly would not find it acceptable. Much work is being done in different areas in different parts of the world. I am delighted to tell him that this country is hosting a major international fuel cell conference in September this year

Back to