Energy of the Future


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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While energy sectors worldwide scramble for first place in the race to discover new energy sources, Turkey has also been looking ahead in its energy policy. With demand growing, energy is increasingly dictating both government domestic thinking and the country's international relations.

The recently drafted Vision 2023 programme is a significant moment in this process, as it represents the first time the country has tried to set out a clear research and development scheme for energy.

At the same time, some argue that Turkey already holds natural resources that could place it in the lead when it comes to a future energy technology with great potential - fuel cells.

As Turkey's economy grows, its demand for energy has naturally been growing with it. Presently, Turkey imports 60% of its energy needs, and this figure, analysts say, will rise to 70% in 2010 and to 80% by 2020.

High energy prices in recent years clearly make these statistics worrisome for Ankara, which some years back also concluded there was a growing gap between Turkey's energy supply and demand.

This drove Ankara to develop closer ties to the energy producing states of the Caspian region and the Middle East, with new oil and natural gas contracts with Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Iran and even Iraq. Yet this resulted in a short-term oversupply problem, particularly for gas, alongside allegations of corruption against previous administrations which had favoured contracts with one or other country.

Yet whatever the case, the longer-term problem remains. There has never been a more necessary time for Turkey to develop its own sustainable fuel energies, a factor which some are now addressing.

Turkish home-electronics giant Vestel recently announced that they had invested $10m to compete with GE and Philips in designing their own range of fuel technologies, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reported last month.

In late July 2005, the company also unveiled one of the fruits of this - a fuel cell, a device aimed at replacing the traditional electric battery.

The company believes their latest design, which could power a house or small business premises, will be on the market as soon as 2007, with field trials set to begin in 2006.

The unit uses hydrogen from natural gas to produce electricity and hot water. It is no bigger than a domestic central heating boiler, and is capable of supplying energy while most importantly, making no carbon emissions.

Vestel's design is unique in that the hydrogen is supplied from sodium boron hydride, which is convenient for Turkey given it possesses some 75% of the world's known boron reserves.

Intel have now got wind of what Vestel have been up to and are so impressed that the US chip manufacturer has invited the Turkish electronics giant to present its designs. A second unit also built by the Turkish company, which is said to be able to power mobile phones and laptops for up to two weeks, has also caught the eye of Intel.

Key to all this in Turkey's energy research and development programme is the Marmara Research Centre (MRC), which is under the wing of the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK), the oldest and largest research institute in the country.

The MRC is at the core of the recently completed Vision 2023 programme.

This programme sets out what it sees as the critical technologies and areas that will help the continuing economic growth of the country. These key areas include: fuel cells for transportation, stationary and portable applications, hydrogen internal combustion engines and hydrogen production and storage technologies. The implementation plan of the programme will be finalised by September 2005 for its official start in 2006.

As part of the 2023 programme, a dynamic Research Information System (ARBIS) has been developed in order to facilitate the collection of research by university personnel, public- and private-sector establishments in Turkey, and Turkish researchers serving abroad.

Some analysts believe that with this pro-active approach towards technology, Turkey could fare well in the future as a major player in the sustainable energy market. Yet while a revolutionary way of thinking may well be needed for a groundbreaking energy supply, only time will tell whether Turkey's vision is truly clear.

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