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Stop the madness: Congress reverses Chu’s decision, flushes $100 million down the toilet pursuing hydrogen cars — which will not be practical or a cost-effective climate strategy in your lifetime

By Joe Romm  

"Stop the madness: Congress reverses Chu’s decision, flushes $100 million down the toilet pursuing hydrogen cars — which will not be practical or a cost-effective climate strategy in your lifetime"


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There are only three sure things in life “” death, taxes, and you’re never going to buy a hydrogen fuel cell car.  Congress should stop wasting your money pursuing Bush’s phony dream.

The fundamental problem with hydrogen as a transport fuel is one that no amount of federal R&D can solve:  The absurdly expensive infrastructure will never be built.

Why would the oil companies build an infrastructure which would, at best, compete with their existing product, or, more likely, cause them to lose their entire investment.  That leaves governments.  But who has the kind of money needed for an infrastructure that — if built around natural gas, which currently produces 95% of hydrogen in this country — won’t even save significant greenhouse gases compared to the best hybrids today running on gasoline?

But a renewable-energy-based hydrogen fueling system capable of handling even half the cars and light trucks on the road would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.  And it would have a cost of avoided carbon dioxide of more than $600 a metric ton, which is more than a factor of ten higher than most other strategies being considered today (see “Hydrogen fuel cell cars are a dead end from a technological, practical, and climate perspective“).

Even California — the big U.S. champion of hydrogen cars in the last decade — has all but abandoned efforts to build a major infrastructure (see “California Hydrogen Highway R.I.P.“).  Thus, the absurdly expensive hydrogen cars themselves will never be more than a niche product and thus never achieve the economies of scale needed come close to being affordable.

Energy Secretary Chu wisely slashed the hydrogen budget back in May:

“We asked ourselves, ‘Is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will covert to a hydrogen car economy?’ The answer, we felt, was ‘no,’” Chu said in a briefing today. He cited several barriers, including infrastructure, development of long-lasting portable fuel cells and other problems.


But now, as Jim Motavalli reports in the NYT‘s Wheels blog, Congress is putting that money back:

Congress appears close to restoring the $100 million in funding for hydrogen research that Steven Chu, the energy secretary, had cut from his budget in May.

The House of Representatives voted 320-97 last Friday to approve $26.9 billion for the Energy Department, including $153 million for hydrogen and fuel cells in the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, plus $40.45 million for hydrogen from coal.

The Senate Appropriations Committee was even more bullish on hydrogen, approving $190 million for the program. Reconciliation of the two budget figures (assuming the full Senate leaves the $190 million intact) could result in a final amount greater than the $168 million for fuel cells in the 2009 Energy Department budget.

Can anyone stop the madness?

The Bush Administration spent some $2 billion pushing the hydrogen fuel-cell car dream.  Global car makers probably matched that.

Yet, the most advanced vehicle on the road, Honda’s new FCX Clarity, which the company optimistically calls “the world’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production” costs “several hundred thousand dollars each to produce,” although Honda’s president Takeo Fukui “said that should drop below $100,000 in less than a decade as production volumes increase” (see “The Last Car You Would Ever Buy “” Literally“).

But how will production volumes increase if the cars are unaffordable and there’s no place to fuel them!

No wonder Dan Neil, the L. A. Times car guy wrote “Honda’s striking, amazing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle may be the most expensive, advanced and impractical car ever built” (see L.A. Times: “Hydrogen fuel-cell technology won’t work in cars.” Duh.).

Hydrogen advocate Greg Blencoe — who constantly disputes my analysis and who will owe me $1000 in a few years (see “The big hydrogen bet “” your chance to get in on the action“) — brags on his website that the negative reaction people have to the true statement, “Large-scale hydrogen fueling stations cost $5 million each” becomes “much more positive” once you learn it means “Large-scale hydrogen fueling stations would cost $2500 per hydrogen car.”

Makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside — especially when you consider that we have a mere 200 million cars and light trucks on the road.  But in fact, that “low” cost per H2 car requires the people who put up the money for those stations to assume a high level of vehicle penetration when they build it, which would be a staggering risk for them to take.  That’s why most vehicle stations are much smaller (though still wildly underutilized), and much more expensive per vehicle.

Indeed, UCLA bragged in April that it is spending $2.1 million (42% of $5 million) on a fueling station with 14% (!) of  the hydrogen output (see “One more reason you’ll be driving electric vehicles and plugs in soon “” not hydrogen fuel cell cars“) — so it will have a per vehicle cost of $7500.   And it makes hydrogen from natural gas.  Are you much more positive yet?

This whole notion is so absurd that even former independent advocates of the idea now openly mock it.  I’m going to reprint one from a year ago (see“The car of the perpetual future” “” The Economist agrees with Climate Progress on hydrogen“).

When the world’s uber-centrist magazine of choice runs a headline almost identical to mine (see “The Last Car You Would Ever Buy “” Literally“), you know it’s all over. Especially when one of that magazine’s leading energy columnists, Vijay Vaitheeswaran, used to sing that technology’s praises (here). Here’s the bottom line:

But the promise of hydrogen-powered personal transport seems as elusive as ever. The non-emergence of hydrogen cars over the past decade is particularly notable since hydrogen power has been a darling of governments worldwide, which have spent billions of dollars in subsidies and incentives to make hydrogen cars a reality”¦.

Here’s the fatal flaw in the H2 economy:

“¦the logistical, technological and economic problems facing hydrogen fuel-cell cars mean that they are very unlikely to make it to market any time soon. One thing holding back hydrogen vehicles is a chicken-and-egg problem: why build cars if there is nowhere to fill them up, or hydrogen filling-stations if there are no cars to use them? Just around the corner, honest.

But wait, here’s another fatal flaw in the H2 economy:

How much more investment is needed to make mass-produced hydrogen cars a reality? According to a recent study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, sponsored by America’s Department of Energy (DoE), public funding of $10 billion would be required to get 2m hydrogen fuel-cell cars onto America’s roads by 2025, rising to $45 billion for 10m cars. A report issued by America’s National Academy of Sciences in July was less optimistic, estimating that $55 billion of government investment would be needed to put just 2m hydrogen cars on the road by 2023. And both reports assume that the technology will get a lot cheaper: the Oak Ridge study assumes it will be possible to make fuel-cell vehicle systems in quantity at a cost of $45 per kilowatt of output by 2010, and $30 per kilowatt by 2015.

This is ambitious. Although fuel-cell costs have dropped by 65% since 2002, according to the CaFCP, today’s fuel cells cost around $107 per kilowatt. Are sudden cost reductions around the corner? Not according to one of the pioneers of fuel-cell technology, Ballard Power Systems, a Canadian supplier of fuel-cell systems to a range of carmakers. In November 2007 it sold its automotive fuel-cell division to Ford and Daimler after a decade of losses, citing the “realities of the high cost and long timeline for automotive fuel-cell commercialisation” for its exit from the business.

Actually, the CaFCP’s cost claim is laughable. You can’t buy a warranteeable fuel cell for a car for $107 per kw today. Try more than 10 times that, over $1000/kw. The CaFCP number is a projection based on the assumption of mass production, hundreds of thousands of units a year, with no explanation of how you’re ever going to get to those sales levels for cars whose best current generation models cost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.

As I wrote in Technology Review, one of the only car companies in the world still seriously pushing hydrogen cars, Honda, hopes that in a decade or so, production volume would drop the car cost to “below $100,000.” As if that price would make it attractive to anybody but the super-rich. But in any case, why would production volumes increase for a car that delivers no real value to the consumer and has no significant societal benefit to motivate government support? Answer: They wouldn’t, so prices may never drop below $100,000. That’s why Ballard left the business.

Hydrogen cars have no future, or, as The Economist‘s headline puts it, hydrogen cars, like fusion energy, have the same future they always had.

And here’s another bunch of fatal flaws:

Even if the network of hydrogen filling-stations can be built, and the technological advances needed to reduce the cost of fuel-cell vehicles can be made, a huge problem still remains: the production and delivery of hydrogen in large quantities. The Oak Ridge study says the two most promising ways to produce hydrogen cheaply in the near term are to make it from natural gas (through a process called “steam reforming”) at the filling stations themselves, or to make it from gas derived from biomass or coal at large, centralised plants, and then deliver it by lorry or pipeline.

Hydrogen sceptics point out not only the large capital costs associated with the production, transportation and storage of hydrogen, but also the availability of far more viable alternatives. Hydrogen is “just about the worst possible vehicle fuel”, says Robert Zubrin, a rocket scientist and the author of Energy Victory, a book on the post-petroleum future. Even if the requisite gains in fuel-cell technology are achieved, he says, the fuel-cell cars of the future should run instead on methanol, which has a higher energy-density than hydrogen and can be stored and transported much more easily.

Furthermore, steam reformation of natural gas is far from a zero-emissions solution, undermining the whole rationale of hydrogen cars in the first place. According to America’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, producing a kilogram of hydrogen by steam reformation generates emissions equivalent to 11.9kg of CO2. Given that the Chevy Equinox fuel-cell vehicle can travel 39 miles on a kilogram of hydrogen, and the FCX Clarity can travel 68 miles, powering these cars using hydrogen produced by steam reformation would result in emissions of 305 and 175 grams of CO2 per mile respectively. By comparison, today’s petrol-electric Toyota Prius hybrid produces tailpipe emissions of around 167 grams per mile, and many small petrol cars achieve similar results.

Seriously “” how many fatal flaws does the technology need? Hydrogen cars were apparently killed in the drawing room by the knife, revolver, lead pipe, rope and candlestick.

The magazine includes as an afterthought yet another major fatal flaw, one that I have written a lot about. While some say “the solution to large-scale hydrogen production lies in using renewable electricity to extract hydrogen from water via electrolysis” or using “nuclear power. But it would surely be easier simply to use this energy to charge the batteries of all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.” Easier, hundreds of billions of dollars cheaper, and you don’t throw away 75% of the valuable carbon free electricity in the process!

Some people cling to the notion that hydrogen can be reanimated like Frankenstein’s monster (see here). But the Economist article ends more realistically:

In other words, claims that hydrogen will be the automotive fuel of the future are as true today as they ever have been.

Kudos to Chu and Obama for trying to kill this monster.  Jeers to Congress for flushing taxpayer money down the toilet in a weak imitation of Bush-Cheney technology strategy.

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27 Responses to Stop the madness: Congress reverses Chu’s decision, flushes $100 million down the toilet pursuing hydrogen cars — which will not be practical or a cost-effective climate strategy in your lifetime

  1. Brett Jason says:

    I agree that hydrogen cars are a pipe dream in the short term, but hey, if we are going to spend $60 billion to develop carbon sequestration technology, what’s a mere 1/10th of a billion to fiddle around with hydrogen technology? They might stumble on a breakthrough. Maybe.

  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    Joe, I often thought that you overkilled the notion that H2 fuel cells won’t make it.

    Our own US Congress just proved me wrong.

    On the other hand, on the list of bad things our Congress has done in my lifetime, throwing $!00 M at fuel cell research is way down on the list. Way, way down.

    [JR: I agree. But here they are going to all the trouble of reversing the right decision. Anyway, this is one of the areas of that I follow closely.]

  3. Lou Grinzo says:

    Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: fusion on wheels.

    But seriously, folks… I’m really glad to see JR pounding on this again, simply because he’s right and I don’t want to see more money squandered on this techno-wild goose chase.

    I would also like to suggest, yet again, that everyone go read Ulf Bossel’s “E21″ paper, “Does a Hydrogen Economy Make Sense?”, in which he does a very thorough electrons-to-wheels comparison of an HFCV and an EV.

    This and related papers are at: http://www.efcf.com/reports/

  4. Wes Rolley says:

    I guess that many miss the real point. Isn’t it that Congress will do whatever they think will get them re-elected? Then we have WV representing Massey Energy. We have the Sr. Senator from Illinois holding out for more funding of NextGen. It is all about what you have done for the power structure of your district.

    That is why the House ACES (Waxman – Malarkey) is as good as we will get. Those who think that the Senate will deliver a stronger bill haven’t counted the votes, or what states are to be represented.

    This is just the first of many disappointments that Pelosi and Reid will deliver to those who hope for more.

    And, as for the idea that California has killed the Hydrogen Highway, consider this June 2, 2009 letter from the Air Resources Board (Mary Nichols, Chair.) to Sec. Chu. It does not sound to me like it is goingaway any time soon.

    All promising low-carbon non-petroleum transportation options, including hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, battery electric vehicles, and advanced liquid biofuels in combustion engines, face significant technical, resource, and market challenges. Hydrogen and fuel cells show great potential and have met or exceeded nearly all of the technical milestones set out by US DOE. Several major automakers are pursuing early market testing with consumers beginning this year
    and are expected to ramp up production to nearly 50,000 vehicles in California by 2017. Ultimately the market will decide which technologies are the winners, but given the critical importance to our long term climate and energy security goals, the best approach is to pursue and invest in a portfolio of the most promising options.

    We will not get what we need until we being to replace members of Congress, and powerful committee Chairs with people who would consider the future until the 7th generation rather than not looking beyond November 2010.

    Wes Rolley
    CoChair – EcoAction Committee, Green Party US.

  5. Mark Mathias says:

    The alternative to H2 fuel cell vehicles, PHEVs and biofuels, have their own issues (e.g. cost) that threaten long-term high market penetration. The H2 infrastructure challenge is real and expensive, but it may turn out to be the best long term approach to addressing petroleum and CO2 issues.

    Battery technology is being hyped now (see the blog on this site “Time to get charged up about advances in smaller, faster lithium-ion batteries” March 17, 2009) like fuel cells were 10 years ago. Why in the US do we change gears every 10 years and abort reasonable development paths (like we did with hybrids 10 years ago) for the sake of paths that seem like panaceas but that are also early in implementation?

    Our Asian competitors have more patience and wisdom, and I am persuaded this is a key reason they are technology/manufacturing leaders on more and more and the US is leading on less and less.

    It costs relatively little to keep the fuel cell in play in this country — we should wait to see what the issues are with PHEV/biofuels rather than make such a rash about-face.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    What’s wrong with CNG? Some cities requre taxis to be CNG powered now.

  7. John says:

    Great article, frustrating Congress that has no clue at all. There needs to be an active grass roots campaign to stop this hydrogen madness. Even if the money being spent is small in comparison, just think of the good it could do if used to bring down battery cost for EVs? The BEV technology is here and it’s good enough, just a bit on the expensive side. Subsidize the battery costs until mass production drives the price down and we are our way to a BEV future.

  8. John says:

    PHEV’s and Biofuels are limited stop gaps on the way to BEVs. Battery technology is improving quickly all the time. The new 180ah prismatics from Sky Energy are the same size and price as last years 160ah units. 200 + mile capable EV’s are quite possible right now with fast recharge capabilities. Even without fast charge, once we start getting over 400 mile range vehicles almost no one will need to recharge during a trip. BEVs are much more efficient than any other technology and there are no “breakthroughs” that will change that. Remember, a FCV is just a BEV with a really inefficient battery, (fuel cell).

  9. David Stern says:

    While I don’t think that hydrogen fuel celled cars seem to make a lot of sense given the existence of the electricity infrastructure, hydrogen and fuel cells might make sense as part of the solution to smoothing out the supply of renewable energy. So unless it is purely development research on hydrogen cars this might not be such a bad idea.

    [JR: Chu wanted to reorganize program to focus on stationary fuel cells.]

  10. Rick Covert says:

    The best review of an actual hydrogen powered car that I have read, the Honda FCX Clarity, was written by automobile correspondent Dan Neil of the LA Times. Here is his read on the Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle. (While He likes the car what he as to say about hydrogen is not flattering.)


    He estimates the actual cost of the car to be $2 million dollars and the cost per kilogram, roughly equivelant to 1 gallon of gasoline in energy content, is $50 but deeply discounted to $5.00. So Joe, you were wrong about the cost of the hydrogen fuel being 4 times the cost of gasoline as you stated in “Who Killed the Electric Car,” because its much more ;)

    Here’s his rather humorous piece on youtube about the Honda FCX Clarity, the follies of fueling the car and the real cost of hydrogen:


  11. jen says:

    $100 million is not that much compared to the billions going towards batteries and biofuels, both of which have their technical challenges as well. Why kneecap a program that is showing progress and will help keep the U.S.’s energy portfolio competitive with other countries who are forging ahead? We are going to need the full range of technologies. Just yesterday Hyundai-Kia said they were committing more than 1.7 billion to hydrogen/fuel cells and hybrids – one more automaker (GM, Toyota, Honda, Daimler) reaffirming their belief that fuel cells are an essential technology.

  12. jjpro says:


    Any problems with all-battery-electric cars? Any problems with PHEVs? What is the range and weight of all-battery-electric vehicles? Any costs associated with battery-electric vehicle infrastructure? How much is the Tesla and who can afford to buy it? Why haven’t the autos come out with PHEVs? Where does the electricity come from for all of these plug-ins? Any problems there? Who is going to buy all of these plug ins you talk about? If they do buy a plug-in, how many do you think will forget to plug it in? Why spend the extra money for a plug in when a Prius is just fine? Please enlighten us. Can you answer these questions so we fully understand the issues you are trying to address? Thanks.

    [JR: Sorry if I don't put every single one of my previous posts on PHEVs in every single post I write about hydrogen. But this is a blog and that is what links are for. I dare say that I have addressed all of those questions many times. But the bottom line is that pretty much every car manufacturer is going to be introducing at least one -- and in most cases, multiple -- PHEVs and EVs in the next 2 to 4 years. And I don't expect many people to forget to plug it in once they realize they are reducing their per mile fueling costs by a factor of five running on electricity -- and I expect the motivation will grow once we get back to record oil prices after the global meltdown ends. And as I've said many times, you can't beat efficiency -- and the best hybrid ever made is the Prius, which I own. That said, you can't solve the climate problem just with efficiency. But thanks for asking and not bothering to actually read this blog.]

  13. Jade in SF says:

    Why don’t they just give me some that $100 + million dollars, and I’ll go purchase myself a few luxury condos. We need to stimulate the economy people!

  14. John Tak says:

    Intelligent analysis about the challenges of hydrogen fuel used in automotive applications is prudent and expected. The major automakers have done that analysis and are clear on why they continue to keep fuel cell electric vehicles fueled by hydrogen as one of the technology options. They neither say it’s a slam-dunk or wet noodle. That makes sense at this stage of the game.

    Even if you retrofitted highway rest stops to include battery charging stations, how many drivers would want to stop to every 100 miles to charge their car and then wait patiently several hours for that charge. At this stage both batteries and fuel cells have their cost, infrastructure, and GHG-reduction challenges. Isn’t that why Toyota, Honda, Nissan, GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai and others are investing in both battery and fuel cell electric cars! Isn’t that why the DOE should too!

  15. ChemEng says:

    The original de-bunker of the hydrogen economy….Ruell Shinnar



    He should have been cited in The Hype…

    His arguments are why big oil (except Shell Hydrogen) has not really had any major hydrogen projects, despite being the world’s leading producers of H2. They completely understand that the laws of thermo cannot be changed, and there are much more practical and cost effective alternatives for transportation fuels. If H2 was viable, you can be sure that big oil would be in the thick of it – for production, distribution, and sales. Car companies are not experts in energy balance and never understood the chicken and egg problem. They started with AD Little’s naive idea of on-board reforming of gasoline and have steadily reduced expectations due to significant technical challenges and fundamental constraints.

    PHEV and BEV are still in the technology honeymoon phase. Things always start out with ambitious goals and rosy predictions. Disappointment will come next.

  16. Bob Rose says:

    [An earlier comment I sent to this blog contained a factual error. The following corrects it. I believe it was held and not posted. Perhaps this will be posted:

    Just a couple of observations:

    1. We are spending more on battery research and manufacturing this year alone ($2.3 billion) than we have spent on transportation related fuel cells and hydrogen since 1990 (about $2 billion spanning Republican and Democratic Administrations). Given the stakes, the hydrogen investment seems like a bargain.

    2. The auto companies (though admittedly not all of them) are increasingly enthusiastic. Honda and Daimler have established fuel cell vehicle production lines. Germany plans 1,000 fueling stations by 2020. Korea just announced a $1.7 billion investment in FCVs. China is trying to buy FCV technology as part of its bid for Opal. Toyota is bragging about its progress on cost reduction. GM is still committed despite management changes and financial hard times. VW is expressing fresh interest. Nearly all this has been announced SINCE Secretary Chu proposed the cuts. Joe has written before that these companies are making a mistake but their commitment is being measured in billions of dollars, and their view deserves some weight.

  17. LizR says:

    Dude, the laws of thermodynamics apply to electricity, too. If the deciding factor was the efficiency of making fuel, then we’d all stay with gasoline.

    Joe, you blew the math on the CO2 emissions. From what I can see, you used well-to-wheels for the Clarity and tank-to-wheels for the Pious. California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard puts a hybrid at about 245 g/mile. And, btw, I get waaay better mileage in my Equinox FCV 42/city and 60/highway.

    [JR: Doesn't matter what mileage you get. Matters what everyone gets. Some people get waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better mileage with the Prius. I reprinted numbers that look very plausible to me because I've done similar calculations. I don't believe the published numbers were wrong, but in any case, well-to-tank for gasoline only adds about 20% to total emissions -- and frankly, the WTW for a FCV are numbers pulled out of somebody's ass.]

  18. This page has an impressive collection of information that virtually no one who’s developing hydrogen vehicles or fuel cells today would agree with. The Dan Neil piece–so many things about that article were dead wrong, starting with the apples to oranges comparison of a 2-seater roadster to a family sized sedan. Tomorrow, I’ll post three Letters to the Editor that point out all the reasons his claims don’t add up. Even Secretary Chu has made some mistakes in his assertions about the state of the technology. Here’s a summary of points and documents refuting his and the author’s claims in the post above: http://cafcp.org/2010-federal-budget

    You know, it’s interesting that when you look at the people who are in favor of hydrogen technologies: it’s auto companies, researchers, energy companies and manufacturers–the people who are making the technology work, plus a number of reputable environmental groups. But it’s only people who are now armchair critics who think that somehow a huge group of the world’s best engineers forgot about the laws of physics or are mindlessly wasting their money. I don’t think so.

    [JR: The vast majority of people who are in favor of hydrogen technologies today are the ones who have a direct financial interest. A few car companies keep their showcase program alive, but if we go by actual commercial vehicles introduced, they clearly believe much more in hybrids today and, plug ins tomorrow. Very hard to find any independent experts who still believe in hydrogen cars.]

    The truth is that hydrogen technologies are some of the best alternative technologies that exist today. And we will need them along with a portfolio of technologies to meet our energy challenges. Congress has this one right so far. Just ask any of the people who are actually making this technology work today.

    [JR: Well, there aren't any technologies that work today -- i.e. that are commercial. So you'll have to ask some other people.]

  19. Shelly T. says:

    And CCS will be practical and cost effective? Give me a break!

    Sometimes the stories here take such a political tone it strains all credibility.

  20. BBHY says:

    I’m just about to complete my third month of driving an electric car. The thing has been great.

    The car defies the FUD. I haven’t had to pull over every 100 miles and wait hours to recharge. I haven’t had any range issues at all. In fact, it’s been much more convenient to have the car ready to go every morning than to have to stop a gasoline stations.

    Recent studies indicate that it takes about 7KWH of electricity for an oil refinery to make a gallon of gasoline. My electric car can go about 25 miles on that much electricity. That’s about the same distance my old car would go on a gallon of gas. So, the amount of electricity used is not any more than the gasoline car used.

    So, that pretty much kills all the arguments that we will need to build more power plants, the grid can’t handle the extra load, and the electricity is all made from coal. Overall only about 46% of electricity comes from coal anyway, and half of mine comes from the solar panels on my roof. There aren’t any panels that turn sunshine into gasoline.

    I don’t see hydrogen catching once people start getting used to electrics, especially with PHEVs available for those who aren’t comfortable going all electric.

  21. ChemEng says:

    What energy companies are major proponents of hydrogen fueled vehicles and a massive infrastructure build? I am asking about the major oils – Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron, ….since they are the ones with the resources and technical power to make this happen on a very large scale.

    I am not talking about the construction-contractor companies that will profit from making hydrogen plants (e.g. AIr Products, Technip, etc). Of course they want hydrogen – but they are not energy companies,

    I’ll suggest that the majority of people researching this technology have never stood next to an industrial steam reforming unit and seen what a massive and scary beast this thing is – a modern Dante’s inferno. Small scale units cannot beat it for efficiency.

    I know for a fact that the oils concluded that hydrogen (made by conventional methods today) was a loser more than 12 years ago. They were doing wells-to-wheel analysis long before anybody outside that industry ever heard the term.

    If you look at well-to-wheel CO2 emissions, hydrogen vehicles based on reforming natural gas derived fuel, are essentially no better than other more practical alternatives such as gasoline and diesel electric hybrids. Why build a massive infrastructure for hydrogen transportation fuel when there is no differential benefit? Then some will say that we can make H2 from renewables and thereby improve the W-to-W emissions. OK – so now there are two massive infrastructures to build. Let’s see if the money goes in that direction.

    Looking at the true fundamentals of H2 production and use, as Professor Shinnar has, you will see that it is a flawed concept based on current production technology. If in the future we have lots of renewable energy, then it might make more sense.

  22. From:

    Toyota sees market opportunity for small EVs, but that according to Toyota’s latest calculations, the fuel cell hybrid vehicle has the advantage in well-to-wheel efficiency even now.

    With natural gas as the feedstock for hydrogen and power generation, Toyota currently calculates 40% WTW efficiency for a fuel cell vehicle; 33% for an EV; 34% for a hybrid (Prius); and 19% for an internal combustion engine.

    We feel that there is a place for EVs in the future, but what is that place? It’s pretty challenging for a full-range larger vehicle. We do see a market for the smaller, shorter range EVs. The key is to make sure your grid is clean. We don’t talk much about it these days, but we are still working very, very strongly on fuel cell technology.

    This view of the future vehicle technology mix—with EV applications likely targeting shorter-range, smaller vehicles and fuel cell vehicle technology applied to larger, long-range vehicles—was reinforced in a subsequent session moderated by GM (Larry Nitz, Executive Director, GM Powertrain) and including engineering executives from Ford (Sharif Marakby, Chief Engineer, Global Hybrid Core Engineering), Daimler (Neil Armstrong, Director, Hybrid Systems & Components), Honda (Kenji Nakano, Senior Chief Engineer, Honda R&D) and Bosch (Joseph Slenzak, Hybrid-EV Business Development), as well as Justin Ward from Toyota.

    [JR: Yes, Toyota is starting to harm their sparkling reputation for analysis with such crap as "With natural gas as the feedstock for hydrogen and power generation, Toyota currently calculates 40% WTW efficiency for a fuel cell vehicle; 33% for an EV; 34% for a hybrid (Prius); and 19% for an internal combustion engine." First off, who cares what the WTW efficiency of running vehicles on natural gas is? No sane person would spend a significant amount of money building a natural gas infrastructure for H2 cars -- the only way you get Toyota's numbers is with onsite H2 generation from CH4 and a lot of wildly optimistic assumptions.

    If Toyota did an honest WTW for running vehicles on zero-carbon electricity, then the WTW efficiency for an EV would be 3 times better than an HFCV, as many, many analyses have shown.]

  23. Kyle says:

    I used to manage the U.S Dept. of Transportation’s participation in the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy (http://www.iphe.net). At the meetings, countries would usually skip the car and truck infrastructure discussion, because no one had a solution except an unknown-but-massive government investment in transportation and fuel station delivery, for which no one had a detailed plan that would win public acceptance and private backing. We mostly stuck to talking about buses.

    The best they came up with were these (I was gone by then), which include no dollar estimates:

  24. Mark Mathias says:

    For WTW studies to be meaningful, all assumptions must be stated. Best study I have found so far is from Argonne National Lab.

    For the same vehicle drag coefficient:
    1) Basecase, ICEV on gasoline
    4900 Btu/mi total energy
    4000 Btu/mi petroleum energy
    370 g GHG/mi

    2) SI PHEV, 20 mi AER, renewable electricity, E85 from switchgrass
    3900 Btu/mi total energy
    650 Btu/mi petroleum energy
    70 g GHG/mi

    3) FC PHEV, 20 mi AER, renewable electricity, H2 from electrolysis
    2400 Btu/mi total energy
    0 Btu/mil petroleum energy
    0 g GHG/mi

    They didn’t include pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in this study. BEVs have very high technology risk and market penetration may suffer due to range, fueling time, and cost constraints. If succesful, they would have the 3x improved efficiency over the FC PHEV when it was in charge sustaining mode.

    Bottom line, if BEVs don’t make it and we end up with SI PHEVs, we have to consider the energy/environmental impact of the charge sustaining portion of the SI PHEV drive cycle. Additionally, it is not clear that PHEVs will achieve mass market penetration because of battery cost. For both these reasons, FC technology is an attractive alternative that warrants continued development in light of the battery technology risk.

    Numbers above from Figs. 20, 22, and 23
    ICEV = Internal combustion engine vehicle
    SI = Spark injection for charge-sustaining mode
    FC = Fuel cell for charge-sustaining mode
    GHG = greenhouse gas
    AER = all-electric range

    [JR: From my perspective the technology risk of PHEVs and EVs is already gone, since we have ultracaps. So it is mostly price now, and eak oil will solve that problem. But nothing can solve the infrastructure problem for H2 -- Note that Argonne has estimated the full infrastructure cost at some one trillion dollars. So a very low level long-term R&D program -- 10 times smaller than what Congress just authorized couldn't hurt, but it is mostly money down the toilet.]

  25. Mark Mathias says:

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Could you please elaborate a bit on how ultracaps remove battery risk impacting PHEVs and EVs?

    Is there a report (with assumptions) on the $1 trillion cost estimate? What is the cost of the PHEV/biofuel alternative?

    I see FCEVs and PHEVs having similar technology/cost risk. I believe the risk with batteries for EVs is significantly higher, with breakthroughs required to make them lighter, capable of quick refill, and affordable.

    Thanks in advance for any further perspective you can offer.