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Volume 464: debated on Thursday 11 October 2007

2. What funding and other support is available for those businesses working on the use of hydrogen as a fuel. (156869)

Available funding includes a £15 million fund operated by my Department for hydrogen and fuel cell technology demonstrations. The Department also funded £6.5 million towards the establishment of a fuel cell and low-carbon vehicle technology centre of excellence based in Loughborough.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that the Governor of California visited this country recently, and that California has been a champion of the use of hydrogen fuel technology. Hydrogen is being used as a fuel throughout the state of California. What steps is the Minister taking to adopt some of its widespread availability?

I heard something about the Governor of California coming to the UK, and I welcome the fact that he has championed not only the potential of hydrogen but further investment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We recognise the potential, which is why we set up the fund. I also welcome the initiatives such as those taken by the Mayor of London, who has committed to having 70 public transport vehicles powered by hydrogen sources. I know that the hon. Gentleman has an interest in this matter, and I am sure there will be many exchanges about the future of hydrogen. We recognise its potential, but it is still some way from fulfilling it because of research needs. I hope that the funding that we have committed will help to move the technology forward.

My hon. Friend the Minister rightly mentions the institute at Loughborough, and we welcome the announcement of the energy technology institute and the £1 billion that it will bring, which will be focused on Loughborough. He talks about potential, but will he visit Intelligent Energy, a company that has a hydrogen fuel cell motorbike ready for production? We talk about potential, but what can his Department do to assist companies that are ready to produce the vehicles and fuel cell technology that will drive this country forward? We must not just talk about potential but ensure a marketplace for such vehicles.

In principle, I am happy to come to Loughborough to meet my hon. Friend and see the company that he describes. In my original answer to the question of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), I gave two examples of support that is available to move this new technology forward. There are a range of other sources to help us take it forward and I—or perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy—look forward to meeting him to discuss those options.

In Havering, BP conducted a very successful experiment in the use of liquid hydrogen fuel for single-decker buses that ended last year. The only trouble was that the buses had to come down from the east end of London to Havering, because that is where the fuel was. Does the Minister agree that it is not just a question of the viability of using a different fuel, but of its availability, in order to make experiments environmentally friendly and to encourage businesses to try them?

I accept the hon. Lady’s point. We need to get to a point where we expand the pilots, which is why I hope she will join me in welcoming the initiative of the Mayor of London to commit to 70 hydrogen-powered public transport vehicles by 2010. Such initiatives will help to move the technology from demonstration projects to reality.