DOE Presents Scenarios for Widespread Hydrogen Vehicle Use

We've looked at a number of hydrogen fuel cell concept cars in the past, and noted that GM plans to put some vehicles on the road for testing in the near future. We're still a long ways from highways packed with vehicles that emit only water, though. How long is a question that's almost completely up in the air, but last week, representatives from the US Department of Energy presented a "Scenario Analyses of a Nascent National Hydrogen Transportation System" at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. Sebastian Blanco from AutoblogGreen was in attendance, and gave a thorough report last Thursday on the presentation by Sigmund Gronich, technology validation manager at the U.S. Department of Energy – Hydrogen, Fuel Cells & Infrastructure Technologies, and his team. Sebastian reported that the group did give potential dates for widespread use of hydrogen-powered personal transportation, but those dates are definitely "potential," and based on many variables that the team members conceded they just didn't know.Gronich and company presented three scenarios for the US:

  1. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) are introduced widely in 2015, with government support for hundreds or thousands of vehicles a year by 2012 and tens of thousands by 2018. This will result in 2 million HFCVs by 2025.
  2. The government supports thousands of HFCVs by 2012, tens of thousands by 2015 and hundreds of thousands by 2018. This gives 5 million HFCVs by 2025.
  3. Lastly, the government supports thousands a year by 2012 and millions a year by 2021, giving 10 million by 2025. The HFCVs come from multiple companies and in lots of model choices.
Once those scenarios are laid out, though, the variables come into play. What's the best way to produce hydrogen? Extract it from natural gas or coal? Biomass? Nuclear sources? Electrolyzing water? Once that question is answered, others concerning location of production facilities, storage, and transportation arise. Will we be able to convert existing fueling stations to dispense hydrogen, or will it require a new generation of gas stations? Finally, who will buy hydrogen cars, and will they be able to get the kinds of vehicles they want and need? The answer to that last question was particularly interesting: according to team member Paul Leiby of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, "A sustainable transition to hydrogen powered light duty vehicles is possible by 2050 (or so) at reasonable cost."

Blanco notes that Gronich closed the presentation by claiming that "...this a first glimpse of what might be, of what's possible." Blanco confessed to skepticism, and commenters on the post were even less charitable. From this summary, it's clear that widespread availability and use of hydrogen cars will depend on at least two more decades of work, a steady stream of government subsidies, and the price of oil rising to at least $90/barrel (one commenter claimed it would have to be $400/barrel to make hydrogen competitive). We ask you: are these scenarios compelling enough to justify those costs? Or should we be focusing more on readily available technologies such as gas/diesel-electric hybrids, fully electric cars, and biofuels for transforming the automobile? ::AutoblogGreen

Tags: Hawaii