The company was formed in 1999 following a declaration from the Government of Iceland declaring (in 1998) that Iceland would like to explore the possibility of exchanging from a fossil fuel paradigm in transport to utilising hydrogen. The company was formed as a public private partnership with key players from Iceland (current shareholders) and Daimler AG, Shell International (Shell Hydrogen) and Norsk Hydro (later Statoil).
The goal of the company was research and demonstration projects connected to hydrogen. In 2001 the ECTOS project was launched. It was an R&D project testing 3 fuel cell Citaro buses (from Daimler) and a commercial hydrogen refuelling station. The station was a turn key solution from Norsk Hydro (later Statoil and now NEL-hydrogen www.nel-hydrogen.com).
The buses were originally to be tested for two years in the public network in Reykjavik but due to the positive outcome the test period was extended. First through the ECTOS project but later through the new HyFLEET:CUTE project. The goal in Iceland was then to continue with the next generation of buses but due to economic turmoil in the Icelandic society in 2008 this was not possible. Therefore the operation of the buses was stopped in 2007 after 4 successful years in operation where all the needed technical, economic and social information had been collected.
The experience of operating the station had been very positive and there was a strong drive to test also passenger vehicles. In 2007 the SMART-H2 project was kicked off with the goal to test passenger vehicles and hydrogen and fuel cells in marine applications. The goal was to test at least 20 vehicles, but in the end the vehicles became 35 from various producers, Daimler, GM, Toyota but the bulk of the vehicles came from Ford. The goal in Iceland was to connect the RD&D part of hydrogen work with the potential serial production of FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicles) vehicles. However in 2009 it became evident that serial production of FCEV´s would not start until around 2015. It was then decided to stop the demonstration period in 2012. One of the key reason was that the vehicles being demonstrated were old 3-6 years (very old for a new technology) and all possible cars to be obtained were 700 bar and the infrastructure in Iceland was not capable of delivering such pressure. All the information that INE planned to acquire during the operation had been collected. Now the goal is to renew the station so that new vehicles can be accepted. The goal is to have a new/rebuild station when serial produced vehicles become available.
In 2008 and hydrogen fuel cell auxiliary engine was installed into Elding (commercial whale watching ship). It was a unique project with the goal to run all the auxiliaries on a hybrid fuel cell (battery back-up) system in commercial operation out in the middle of the North Atlantic. It became a very challenging job to get the system to work as planned and also getting certification for the commercial operation was not a simple task. Despite all the hurdles the team managed to get full certification for the boat operation. Though the actual up time of the system was lower that the team set out to accomplish the experience and learning of the project was unique, not only for INE but also for many other Icelandic project partners.
During and following the SMART-H2 project there was an ongoing discussion about the role of INE within the shareholder group. The Icelandic team wanted INE to participate in broader project – i.e. all activities related to renewable fuel that could be produced in Iceland, methane, biodiesel, battery activities and of course continue with the hydrogen work. It was decided to broaden the scope of the company and INE is now participating in RD&D projects related to hydrogen, methane, batteries, bio-diesel, etc. both for land and marine applications. At the same time INE became the project coordinator for Græna Orkan (Ecoenergy) which is a cluster of companies working in the field of environmentally friendly fuels and is the key policy advisor to the government of Iceland regarding eco-friendly transport.
The company has a unique knowledge and experience. It is the only company in the world that has operated a hydrogen refuelling station, hydrogen ICE vehicles, FCEV, BEV´s, marine application both with hydrogen and batteries and simultaneously conducted various economic, environmental and social research. Also INE has been consultant to government institutions both national and foreign and to various companies. The company has given presentations all over the world and to a number of world leaders such as the president of India, Check Republic, Germany, etc. Education has also been an important part of INE´s history by giving university presentation all over the world and donating education materials to the Icelandic school system.
It is evident that shifting the energy paradigm for a whole nation will take time. It is unlikely that one single solution will overtake the market from fossil fuels. Variety of fuels will be on the market but for now it seems that a possible solution in Iceland would be to utilise the methane that is possible to capture from landfill sites (could replace 5-10% of the fuel market) and then to have electro-mobility based on BEV and FCEV´s replacing other vehicles depending on the customer needs and demands.
*more details on the INEs projects here.