7 March 1998

John Battle MP, Minister of State, (Industry, Energy, Science and Technology)

Department of Trade and Industry

On the discovery of water on the Moon

It's quite a significant revelation really, because the suggestion is that we can get the fuel for jet propulsion to send rockets off the moon, out into space, and the fuel source is water: H2O. Now the way that that will happen is if they can break down the molecular structure of water to its component parts: "H" which is hydrogen, and that enables, what will be the hydrogen economy, to take off.

Now if we can do it on the moon, why on earth aren't we doing it on earth – because we know we can? In other words, there is a source of clean, green energy that we are not sufficiently using.

A simple process?

It's simple – in principal, in theory – but not easy to do. To actually turn it into a working vehicle that moves round the roads or inner cities, it is not quite as easy, though I have to say there have been some developments. I know in some German cities there are buses that are run on hydrogen fuel. I want to see car companies, car producers and, indeed, even fuel producers, considering the hydrogen possibilities that would enable us to meet targets, to enable us to have an environmental clean-up of the pollutants in our air.

A question of investment?

I think it is investment, and maybe still some research to be done. What we do know is that NASA and the jet propulsion organisation in America must have gone a long way down the road in this research for them to make the statements that they have made. In other words, it is a significant revelation, not that they've found water on the moon, but that they're proposing to use it for propulsion.

Britain playing a leading role in the production of alternative fuels like hydrogen

I go round universities and look at what is called fuel catalysis, and there's good work going on already in laboratories in Britain. It's transferring that – changing that into practical solutions – for the problems we face. But that would mean a mindset change in the way that we approach transport and moving about because at the moment, in a sense, cheap gas is the answer, burning fossil fuels. We have got the technology and we're looking at a whole range of options. Our Government is backing renewable energy sources – not just the technologies, but already encouraging new sources of energy – wind, wave, bio-mass, fuel farms – as a means of generating energy in a clean, green fashion.

The timescale?

We have set time brackets. We're looking at how we can get 10% of our energy generation from renewables by the year 2010. When we came into Government I looked at the figures and they were less than 2%. I've already put in place a programme that will guarantee that we hit 5% by the year 2000, then we aim to push on to hit that higher target. This still leaves 90%, with a long way to go to switch over from fossil fuel to renewable. It will be only 10%. In a sense, I could say it's a modest start.

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