The proposed canal has been slammed by Turkish environmentalists. But authorities at Turkey’s center for hydrogen energy technology see a silver lining: the canal could enable Turkey to become one of the world’s most important producers of hydrogen energy.
When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his self-termed “crazy project” last month – a new canal connecting the Black Sea and Marmara Sea, a few kilometers west of the Bosphorus Strait – most environmentalists were aghast. The project would open up hitherto undeveloped areas around Istanbul to a rash of giant new constructions, including convention centers, exhibition halls, sports facilities, housing, and Turkey’s largest airport.
But the canal would also take over most of the ship traffic that currently fills the Bosphorus: about 150 ships per day, to be specific. And that would free up the strait for hydrogen energy projects that Turkey has been waiting years to realize.
The undersea flow of the Bosphorus could be harnessed to generate a huge amount of hydrogen energy, according to authorities from the International Center for Hydrogen Technologies (ICHET), which the United Nations Industrial Development Organization founded in Turkey in 2003.
The ICHET has tried to set up such projects in the past, but the heavy traffic through the strait was an insurmountable obstacle. If construction on the canal actually moves ahead, the ICHET will station a turbine on a submarine about midway up the Bosphorus, eight meters deep in the water. This initial generator would probably only generate 20 kilowatts of electricity, ICHET authorities told Turkish daily Today’s Zaman, but it would be a pilot project for future hydrogen energy endeavors in the strait.
By electrolyzing the seawater in the Bosphorus, the turbine would produce hydrogen, which would be stored under heavy pressure. That high-pressure hydrogen could then be used to fuel an internal combustion engine, which would generate electrical energy from mechanical energy, or could be used as raw fuel itself.
If the Bosphorus became available to the ICHET, it would mark the center’s biggest opportunity for hydrogen energy production since its founding. Little research and development of hydrogen energy has occurred so far, so its costs are still high. But with increased research and development, experts predict this renewable resource could become one of the most important ways for the world to wean itself from conventional fuels.
Turkey is well on its way to becoming a major player in this future industry. In February, the ICHET began work on Turkey’s first hydrogen filling station in Istanbul, and expects it to be ready for service in 2011. Concurrently, Turkey’s first hydrogen-fueled boat is being constructed in nearby shipyards. Foreign firms are also eyeing the market for hydrogen-powered devices in Turkey; Mazda will begin selling hydrogen-powered cars in Turkey in coming months.
Hydrogen energy could undoubtedly become one of the most exciting renewable energies in Turkey over the next century. Hopefully, it will attract more support from the government than the underappreciated solar sector, and entice the government away from sponsoring destructive hydropower projects in the country’s eastern regions.
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Image via Today’s Zaman