NRC panel of advocates for dead-end hydrogen cars, chaired by a former ExxonMobil executive, trashes plug-in hybrids in deeply flawed report, Part 1

Media fails to report conflict of interest

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In a staggering lapse of judgment, the National Research Council let its panel of hydrogen advocates publish a deeply flawed report trashing plug-in hybrids.

Last week, the NRC’s “Committee on Assessment of Resource Needs for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies,” which is stacked with hydrogen car experts and advocates, but lacks comparable experts on electric cars or batteries, published a report “Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies–Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles” dismissing their major competitor in the “car of the future” race.  That would be like letting a Coal with Carbon Capture and Storage Committee or the Nuclear Power Committee write a report on “Transition to carbon-free power — solar energy.”

Adding to the obvious perception of bias that should have rung many alarm bells for the NRC here is the fact that the chair of this panel is Michael P. Ramage, retired Executive Vice President, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.  This bio says he still is “Executive Advisor ˆ’ ExxonMobil.”  Guest blogger Marc Geller runs through the lop-sided affiliations of the other Committee members below.  Not surprisingly, media outlets like the Washington Post ate the story up, while never mentioning the obvious conflict of interest.

Felix Kramer at CalCars has published a detailed debunking, as has the Electrification Coalition, which notes:

  • The NRC study significantly overestimates current battery costs, placing them out of line with published research by DOE National Laboratories, exhaustive research by auto-industry analysts and current industry experience.
  • The battery and vehicle costs assumed by the NRC generate inaccurate estimates of the cost-effectiveness of PHEVs. The flawed cost assumptions also result in subsidy estimates that are widely off-mark.
  • The NRC study inappropriately discounts future reductions in battery costs derived from technological improvements and scale production

Chair Ramage states, “It is unusual for the NRC to reconvene a committee organized for one purpose to investigate another but this is an unusual committee in another way, too. I have never worked with a committee that was so dedicated, knowledgeable, and talented.”  Uhhh, it is beyond “unusual” for the NRC to allow a group of advocates for pass judgment on its chief competitor!  And if this committee is unusual in “another way,” it’s that it is filled will hydrogen hypers who have been consistently wrong about the prospects for and progress in commercializing hydrogen fuel cell cars.

Anybody who thinks we should listen to hydrogen car advocates on anything in the transportation arena should know that today most independent and objective observers — those outside of the hydrogen industry, outside the few remaining oil companies and car companies still pursuing the technology — understand hydrogen cars are a wildly impractical and cost-ineffective strategy for reducing carbon emissions, including our Nobel-Prize-winning Secretary of Energy.  I’ll discuss that in Part 2, next week, but readers can start here:

The rest of this post is a guest debunking by electric car expert Marc Geller:

There has never been a shortage of stories in the press denigrating plug-in electric cars. Why? Because people naturally, logically believe electric cars are a good idea. Special interests who preferred to maintain the internal combustion status quo (read oil and auto companies) have long needed to plant seeds of doubt. Via paid consultants, close relationships with universities, a pliant press more apt to reprint a press release than analyze it, and print and television advertising, their negative message has been successfully imparted.

We’ve seen it all in the press: electric cars are more polluting, less safe, require too much water, will electrocute rescuers after a crash, will spontaneously explode, and will kill the blind. It takes a sustained effort to sow confusion about the obvious benefits of electric cars. Little would have been gained by attempting to expand the reach of gasoline to laptops or refrigerators, so we’ve long been subjected to a decades-long preemptive assault on electric cars. As electric cars seek a place in the market, expect more such stories.

This week saw the sophisticated version with the release of a National Academies of Sciences study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The press release headline blares: “PLUG-IN HYBRID VEHICLE COSTS LIKELY TO REMAIN HIGH, BENEFITS MODEST FOR DECADES.”

[JR:  I’d note that the headline would be 10 times more accurate if you replaced “Plug-in hybrid” with “Hydrogen Fuel Cell,” the Committee’s actual area of expertise.]

The report highlights battery cost in 2010 leading to a $18,000 premium for some initial PHEVs, and suggests no lower cost is unlikely to be achieved with economies of scale. Dubious presumptions about PHEV usage lead the authors to minimize any potential petroleum and emissions reductions. Many reports, including presentations at CARB in September 2009, see much more positive indicators on the battery front, and the NRDC/EPRI study that led to the “more polluting” story cited above, actually points to significant emissions reductions with PHEVs.

If you read to the end of the press release, you find out more about who actually issued the report. It was something called the “Committee on Assessment of Resource Needs for Development of Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technology & Potential Impacts of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles” within the “Board on Energy & Environmental Systems” of the “Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences” of the National Academies of Science. An odd-sounding committee, really, albeit imbued with gravitas. According to the Committee Membership Information, the group contains at least three retired oil and auto company people, academics who do hydrogen research, consultants with oil company ties and one who has served on the National Hydrogen Foundation board and another the retired Vice President Hydrogen Systems for Chevron Technology Ventures, and a venture capitalist immersed in hydrogen. And, of course, a professional environmentalist, a Union of Concerned Scientist scientist, whose work has focused on fuel cells. Stacked deck?

The message from those attempting to derail the inevitable plug on vehicles is always the same – we’ve got to keep trying everything. Nothing’s ready yet. We can’t choose winners.

“According to the report, a portfolio approach toward reducing U.S. dependence on oil is necessary for long-term success. This should include increasing the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles and pursuing research, development, and demonstration into alternative strategies, including the use of biofuels, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.”

CNN picked up the story questioning whether plug-ins pencil out for consumers.

Friday’s Washington Post editorializes ignorantly against government support of plug-ins, based it would seem solely upon this report.

One of the many smaller media outlets and blogs to pick up the story got the message. The author of Don’t Believe the Hype About the Plug-In Car, opined:

“There’s always the hope that a genius at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or another top school will invent the gizmo that changes everything. But this isn’t Hollywood and technological advances are likely to be incremental. That means no immediate miracles and oil will continue to be a vital part of the economy for the foreseeable future.”

In fact it doesn’t take a miracle. It takes a clarity of purpose, a willingness to pay attention to the science, and the guts to aim high. We need a focused effort at transportation electrification to work in parallel with the move toward renewable energy.

Whatever one thinks about the technological future of PHEVs vs. HFCVs, it is simply unconscionable that the NRC let advocates for the latter pronounce a judgment on the former.  The report should be retracted.

Related Posts:

The battery and vehicle costs assumed by the NRC generate inaccurate estimates of the cost-effectiveness of PHEVs. The flawed cost assumptions also result in subsidy estimates that are widely off-mark.

31 Responses to NRC panel of advocates for dead-end hydrogen cars, chaired by a former ExxonMobil executive, trashes plug-in hybrids in deeply flawed report, Part 1

  1. mike roddy says:

    What a joke. Hydrogen cars, after 20 years of hype, are still barely in the prototype stage. Hybrids capture more market share every year.

    The oil companies did a great job of suckering non engineer Amory Lovins of RMI about hydrogen, too, and he is a great convention speaker. We kept waiting, and waiting…. This did a great deal of damage, and Exxon is going back to the well. We can’t let them sucker us again.

  2. joe1347 says:

    Great article. It’s both baffling why the main stream media (MSM) doesn’t give plug-in hybrids more ink. One would think that the American public would be interested in a technology (plug-in hybrids) that essentially reduces the cost of gas below a dollar a gallon again.

    At least the NY Times had an article last week on Toyota’s plans to start selling (in reasonable volume) short range (12.4 mile) plug-in Prius’s in 2011, which should get >70mpg for many drivers. Sad that nobody else in the MSM carried the same story – or expanded on it. One would think that the first 70mpg ‘real’ car – unlike the vaporware Chevy Volt – is news worthy?

  3. Cyril R. says:

    It doesn’t surprise me. The NRC previously trashed solar thermal power for the US southwest as having no potential for further cost reductions and having no buyers for the next two decades! They got proven wrong on that after a competent engineering firm (Sargent and Lundy) showed that cost reductions in various areas (volume production, plant economies, and technical improvements) were plausible, even without breakthroughs!

    I think you’re right about this organisation, Joe. They’ve done a great job in slowing progress.

  4. SecularAnimist says:

    In terms of car technology, I think the most important thing is 100 percent electric drive. Then you can use a choice of electric power sources: batteries, fuel cells, or combustion-fueled generators to power your electric motor(s). I think that rechargeable batteries will clearly emerge as the best choice, especially when backed up by a small on-board high-efficiency combustion-fueled generator (preferably burning sustainably produced biodiesel) for longer trips. But it’s the 100 percent electric drive that gets you the simplicity, efficiency, modularity, flexibility, and other benefits of electric cars.

  5. Cyril R. says:

    I just looked up the cost of the Honda FCX, a typical family fuel cell car.

    The fuel cell system alone costs 500,000 dollars. A factor 2 cost reduction can easily be had with high volume production. 250,000 dollars. Another 2 with incremenental cost reduction. 125,000 dollars.

    Even with major breakthroughs, could they get to sub 10,000 incremental cost? With near term cost reductions they are still easily an order of magnitude off that target. The NRC clearly thinks that 10,000 dollars incremental cost is too much. Their infrastructure concerns for PHEV are rather silly as hydrogen has far more severe infrastructure concerns (both economically as well as in engineering terms). So what is their suggestion?

    Their recommendation section is definately incomplete. It should also say:

    “Import more foreign oil and hope for peak oil to be total bullshit, and emit more NOX, particulates, and greenhouse gasses”

    And: “Don’t even think about building more electric power generation, electric transmission, or smart grid technology as that would void our analysis”

    “Oh, and don’t say anything about the high cost, inconsistent learning curve, and inherently low efficiency for hydrogen fuel cell technology either! And don’t mention V2G or G2V please!”

  6. Mike#22 says:

    GM’s Volt will not feature a fuel cell range extender, despite GM’s considerable experience with their fuel cell powered Equinox fleet. Fuel cells are still too costly, too shortlived, and too dangerous.

    The Equinox HFCV is equipped with SEVEN H2 sensors. GM literature for the Equinox reads: “If hydrogen is detected, the H2 icon on the instrument panel lights, an audible beep will continuously sound, and a “HYDROGEN DETECTED” message will appear (as shown below). The hydrogen flow to the fuel cell will be shut off, and the vehicle will have reduced power from the battery to move to the roadside. If hydrogen does not dissipate within 60 seconds, the HYDROGEN IS DETECTED EVACUATE VEHICLE message will appear.”

  7. Andy Heninger says:

    I have always assumed that Hydrogen cars were endorsed by the Bush administration, the old GM, and the like because it was a way to appear to be doing something green that carried little risk of commercial success. They really didn’t want some upstart technology to upset the ongoing business of selling oversized trucks and being completely dependent on Exxon and her sisters for their fuel.

    This latest report sounds like a continuation of that play book. Ties to Exxon, indeed!

  8. Chris Dudley says:

    Lithium air fuel cells (often called lithium air batteries) or direct carbon fuel cells seem much more likely to see significant adoption than hydrogen fuel cells. The trouble comes most in making and handling the hydrogen.

  9. J.A. Turner says:

    The assumption that gasoline prices will stay below $4 per gallon indefinately isn’t realistic. The report also appears to lump the cost of hybridizing the vehicle into the PHEV cost barrier rather than comparing HEV and PHEV costs, which exaggerates the cost differential. And the report is very pessimistic about the potential for innovation. For example, the need for two types of energy storage (deep cycles on a high-capacity battery, and an ebb and flow of brief bursts of current to provide acceleration and to absorb regeneration) is a problem that can be solved. My Prius has the standard NiMH battery for ebb and flow, and a Lithium battery for high capacity. A more sophisticated control system could better exploit each battery’s capabilities. It’s also possible that capacitors could be incorporated into the energy management system to better manage the ebb and flow.

  10. Jeffrey Wishart says:

    Joe, I am still being moderated for unreasonable lengths of time. Any solutions to this?

    [JR: Don’t make false accusations in your comments.]

  11. Mike#22 says:

    The NRC report claims “Assembled battery packs currently cost about $1,700/kWh of usable

    The 2011 Tesla S base model, which has a 42 kwh pack, will sell for $58,000.

    Maybe they meant to say, “Assembled battery packs (obtained by purchasing a new luxury electric vehicle, removing the battery pack, and then scrapping the rest of the vehicle) currently cost about $1,700/kwh.

    Absolutely, the NRC report should be retracted.

  12. JasonW says:

    While I fully support the continuing development of plug-in hybrids and full electric cars, isn’t that just shifting the GHG output? The electricity required to run these things needs to be generated somewhere, so a truly sustainable solution can only include renewable energy sources on a substantially larger scale than currently available, in the US as well as here in Europe. This won’t be news to Joe or most CP readers, but it has to be mentioned.

  13. Dan says:

    Two quick caveats to your concern.
    1) Most of these cars will be charged overnight, when there is excess generating capacity and electricity is cheap. If you want to see more about this, search for “peak electricity demand.”
    2) Electric drives are vastly more efficient than internal combustion engines. I don’t have a life-cycle analysis of electricity generation-to-car on hand, but I’m sure there is a lower GHG output.

    Still, I think you hit the larger point right on.

  14. Jeff Green says:

    The hydrogen car is dependent on the battery car to improve. The larger the battery pack the smaller the fuel cell can be. It actually follows the same rules as the plug in hybird.

    larger battery pack for phev smaller gas engine

    larger battery pack for hydrogen fuel cell car, smaller fuel cell needed.

    They are just blowing smoke up our a–es.

  15. David B. Benson says:

    Of course if we would all use trains (in a variety of fomrs) and buses (in a variety of forms), not to mention bicycles for some, this would be mute.

  16. Bob Wallace says:

    Perhaps, as we approach the end of the decade, we might want to look back at how we viewed alternatives to petroleum to power our personal transportation.

    We went through a short love affair with ethanol and other biofuels until someone did the math and demonstrated that we would have to make a choice between driving and eating.

    That failed, we looked to hydrogen. Few of us could see acceptable batteries in our future. Sure, hydrogen wasn’t a very efficient “battery” and it would have required an entirely new infrastructure to create, transport, and dispense it, but it was the best option at the moment. At least, we could make it with renewable power.

    Then we started seeing much better batteries and lots of promising breakthroughs which should lead to even better batteries.

    Tesla produced their Roadster.

    All of a sudden we were faced with the reality of a 200+ mile range car with blazing performance. Sure, the price was high, but all the range and golf cart like performance myths were blown away.

    The day that the first Tesla hit the road probably marks the end of hydrogen transportation.

    Next big milestone? Possibly when Nissan brings a much more affordable “normal” car to market. An EV that we all can afford. (And then about three years later when they release their “200 mile” battery.)

  17. Jeffrey Wishart says:

    False accusations? Joe, I would be very interested to know which ones you consider false. I have no problem with moderating trolls and people who are illogically denying the science. But you are now preventing intelligent discourse, and that is a huge problem. As I have told you before, I am a big fan of this site and I visit it multiple times each day. But your moderation of my views on fuel cell-powered vehicles is unwarranted and shows that you are not averse to suppressing dissent when doing so fits your narrative.


    [JR: First off, I’ve let you repost your flawed analysis. No, there is about a 0.000000001% chance someone would combine a PHEV with a HFCV. If PHEVs prove practical, they are the death of hydrogen cars — that is the view of everyone I trust in this space. That’s so obvious I don’t lose sleep letting you state the reverse a few times. But it was your final comment misrepresenting my post that I simply didn’t want to waste time responding to Christmas eve.]

  18. Logic Deferred says:

    12. JasonW says: “While I fully support the continuint development of plug-in hybrids and full electric cars, isn’t that just shifting the GHG output?”

    Much depends on where and how the electricity is generated. As more electricity is generated from less toxic sources (Concentrated Solar Thermal, Wind, Natural gas enhanced coal) then the electricity that goes into the cars takes on a smaller and smaller environemental footprint. Plus, because the “distribution” infrastructure for electricity is already established that is an entire problem that does not need to be solved.

    So the answer is, “yes, it is shifting the GHG output,” but it is shifting it in ways that are substantially lowering the total sum.

  19. Rick says:

    I’d like to see wheel motors with 20 mile battery capacity and a basic ICE power train to augment and range extend. I’m afraid the electric generator of the volt is going to be it’s downfall.

    The Volt system seems like too many expensive batteries required and too much demand on the batteries. It’s overdone. Make it simpler.

  20. Leland Palmer says:

    If Bush, probably at the oil companies’ behest, hadn’t killed the Clinton hybrid supercar program, and substituted a hydrogen fuel cell car for it, ExxonMobil might have sold less gasoline than they did during the speculative oil price bubble of the Bush years.

    What a tired shell game this is.

    What can we do with this antisocial behemoth run by the liars from Hell?

  21. JasonW says:

    #18 LogicDeferred: Yes, that was my point. Electric cars only truly be viable as substantally lower GHG output vehicles if the electricity produced to charge them with is CO2-neutral as well. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be aggressively pursued. Anyhow, with the Japanese boldly leading the way, it is only a matter of time until the European and American car makers have to follow. They’re taking their sweet bloody time though – as yet I’m unaware of any serious programmes from French manufacturers, GM/Opel have their fig leaf Volt/Ampera and the rest of the German manufacturers – nil (I’m not counting the electric Mini here).

    With regard to energy production there are mixed signals in Europe: On the one hand we have countries like Denmark, home to several off-shore and near-shore wind parks, really pushing for wind power, on the other hand there are, in Germany, plans for building several brand new coal power plants, with justifications bordering on the Orwellian: “Building new power plants also makes sense from a climate protection angle” (statement by the center-right state government of North Rhine-Westfalia on the construction of the huge Datteln power plant – for which they deleted a paragraph mandating preference for renewables).

  22. johne says:

    Apart from the obvious infrastructure issues, hydrogen has a couple of other problems. Firstly, it leaks from just about everything! Current storage systems for cars have a half-life measured in weeks. Secondly, the leaked hydrogen will probably increase water vapour levels in the upper atmosphere and will probably (sorry about the two probablys but this aspect of climate science is not well understood) act as a multiplier of the warming effects of other greenhouse gases as well as having its own effect as a GHG.

  23. Leif says:

    Dropped, # 4
    Which brings us back to “off peak” renewable power going to batteries and taking the edge off “base load” to the degree practical. That will give us a good start as well as give every electric car owner a big improvement in there personal carbon foot print. Of course, the less fuel we burn the lower the demand, and lower the price for those unable to participate. However that is the problem for the fossil fuel industry and the very reason so much money is spent to keep the public confused. A couple of Congressmen, News Media, etc. It is just a cost of doing business. Public good be damned…

  24. Jeffrey Wishart says:

    Joe, I am wondering whether you understand that a PHV, by definition, is a hybrid vehicle that can take off-board energy. Here is the current SAE definition (from J1711):

    “A road vehicle that can draw propulsion energy from both of the following on-vehicle sources of stored energy: 1) one consumable fuel and 2) one rechargeable energy storage system (RESS) that is recharged by an electric motor-generator system, an off-vehicle electrical energy source, or both.”

    Where or where does it say that fuel cells cannot be the energy conversion device using the consumable fuel? The end game for transportation, barring an unforseen breakthrough in battery technology (which could happen, I wouldn’t rule it out even though it’s unlikely), is a PHV where the consumable fuel doesn’t emit either CACs or GHGs when consumed. That is where fuel cells come in.

    Joe, you are a well-informed advocate for energy systems issues, but you are no prophet. Giving some ridiculously precise (and vanishingly small) probability for fuel cells being adopted does not make the actual probability conform to your prediction. Most of the major car companies have very active fuel cell programs. Of course they haven’t proven themselves to be very prescient in the electrification of powertrains thus far, but there are still a lot of people with much more experience than you with vehicles who disagree with you. And that should be fine. I don’t understand the adversarial position you are taking with me and others who happen to think differently than you but have the same objective of increasing efficiency and lowering emissions in the transportation sector.

    [JR: PHEVs could run on hydrogen. But they’re not going to. Makes no sense. A couple of car companies have “very active fuel cell programs.” A few other have active fuel cell programs. Since when does that prove anything. Almost every major financial institution had “very active” subprime loan and/or CDS programs. It’s called group think and keeping up with the Joneses. Look at what they are actually commercializing — there will be dozens of PHEVs and EVs before we see a single “commercial” HFCV.]

  25. Anonymous says:

    On the topic of life cycle emissions of PHEVs:

    One recent study from Carnegie Mellon University assessed life cycle GHG emissions from PHEVs, including energy use and GHG emissions from battery production. They analyzed how changes in the electricity mix, vehicle efficiencies, battery characteristics, and biofuel use affect the life cycle GHGs. These researchers found that PHEVs reduce GHG emissions by 32% compared to conventional vehicles. They also estimated that GHGs associated with lithium-ion battery materials and production account for 2–5% of life cycle emissions from PHEVs. Even with the average U.S. carbon intensity for electricity generation, PHEVs have a lower life cycle GHG than HEVs. However, with cleaner electricity generation, the GHG savings become greater.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Hydrogen is not a fuel, it is an energy carrier. It takes energy to create hydrogen gas, plus additional energy to compress/store. When you add the inefficiencies of conversion, fuel cells are less efficient (from the perspective of energy required to move the vehicle a given distance) than electric vehicles.

  27. DaveD says:

    Great write up Joe, thanks!

    To your question about whether EV’s just move the GHG:
    Here are some numbers I posted to this same question on another forum…

    The average car (European numbers as I could find them) emits 161g/km which is = 256g/mile.

    I’ve found multiple sources showing that average CO2 emissions to be about 600g/kWh of CO2 at the wall socket (after line losses, etc) for the US electric grid (and I’m still looking for the European numbers). And the US is slightly over half coal fired today.

    The Nissan Leaf uses 225Wh/mile so it emits “power plant-to-wheels” 135g/mile of CO2. (225Wh*600g/kWh=135g/mile)

    So you’re really looking at:
    EV: 135g/mile of CO2
    ICE vehicle: 256g/mile of CO2

    And that 256g/mile of CO2 for traditional car is really understating the total. It still does not take into account the electricity used to refine the gasoline AND the natural gas burned to refine the gasoline. The coal just gets burned at the boiler….no further refinement needed.
    So that actually adds to the gasoline car’s CO2.

    Using Exxon’s most efficient refinery, the “Energy Star Compliant” Baton Rouge facility as a model, the electricity used at the refinery adds another 47g/mile of CO2 to the ICE car. Also, the natural gas burned to refine the gas probably doubles that number… but I’m still looking for solid data to confirm this. So the actual number for the average traditional ICE car today is over 300g/mile of CO2.

  28. Rick Covert says:

    As a former believer in hydrogen fuel cell cars, the push by the minority of hydrogen advocates to promote hydrogen fuel cell cars over plug-ins has the feel of a very bad Jason movie. You keep killing it, the discredited idea of practical affordable fuel cell car, but he/it always comes back.

  29. Jeff Wishart says:

    Joe, of course there will be lots of ICE-based PHVs before there are fuel cell-based ones. That is exactly what one would expect with a bridge technology. I don’t want to quibble over what constitutes an “active” fuel cell vehicle program, so let’s just agree that all of the major automotive OEMs (with the notable exception of BMW) are developing this technology to various degrees.

    I find it surprising that you dismiss fuel cell technologies (in vehicles) so irrevocably. I think that confident predictions of technology futures is a profession littered with errors, as I am sure you well know. And your opposition to fuel cells (in vehicles) is so visceral that it seems as though you have closed your mind completely to the possibilities, even when informed advocates are agreeing with you that ICE-based PHVs should and will dominate for next decade or two as the infrastructure, H2 production and storage, and fuel cell performance issues are worked out.

    I am not saying with any confidence that any fuel cell-based vehicles will be commercialized at any particular point in the future. I think that the case for them is compelling, but examples like Betamax show us that the best technology doesn’t always win. If we manage somehow to put a price on GHG emissions, as you constantly advocate, and it goes high enough, then FC-based PHVs could beat ICE-based ones on purely economic criteria.

    I therefore think that writing off fuel cells for vehicular applications is very premature on your part. It’s imperative that people with the same objectives not fight amongst themselves (I see a direct parallel with the cap-and-trade vs. carbon tax acrimony), I move that we push for progressive vehicle policies, even while disagreeing about the future path of technologies. And I further move that we allow for the possibility that the path may be different from that believed by one or both of us.

    What say you?

  30. Jeff Wishart says:

    Joe, I was wondering if you could also explain why you don’t think that FC-based PHVs will ever exist. I am guessing that you will say that the capital costs of both powertrain components will make the vehicle prohibitively expensive. No doubt that will be true for years if not decades. But the efficiencies of ICE-based PHVs apply to FC-based ones as well: we would use the higher efficiency batteries (and UCs) to drive in the city and then use the FC and H2 on longer trips. As we decrease the costs of both batteries (and UCs) and FCs, and the cost of GHG emissions increase, the economics will improve.

    Do you have other reasons for rejecting the possibility of FC-based PHVs?

    [JR: I won’t repeat my general analyses here, but the answer is threefold. First, capital cost (and related complexity). The battery may be able to pay for itself by providing grid services and in the aftermarket (when it can’t be used in a car but could be used for renewable storage). Can’t see that for fuel cell. Second, efficiency. Hard to beat in and out of battery. That’s maybe 3x more efficient than electricity to H2 back to electricity (and no, I can’t get very excited about biomass to H2 — it’s not a good use of biomass). Once you have a viable PHEV, H2 becomes nearly pointless. Third, creating the H2 infrastructure remains a cost/policy/logistical nightmare.]

  31. Jeff Wishart says:

    Joe, I agree with you on the cost advantages of the battery. The only way that fuel cell-based PHVs will happen is if there is a significant price imposed on GHG emissions–something for which we both hope. But ICE-based PHVs will certainly recoup the costs of initial investment much more quickly for the foreseeable future.

    As for efficiency, of course I agree that batteries are more efficient round-trip. But I am talking about using the batteries for most trips and the fuel cells only when the trip exceeds the range capacity of the batteries. I find it notable that you have criticized GM for making the Volt’s battery too large but then say that with a “viable PH[E]V, H2 becomes nearly pointless”: if the goal is reduced emissions, and the DOT says that a significant proportion of trips would require larger battery capacities than the PH[E]V10 could provide all-electrically, then having H2 as the fuel is certainly not insignificant. Don’t you agree that having no tailpipe emissions should be our ultimate goal?

    As for infrastructure, no doubt this is the most challenging aspect of widespread FC adoption in vehicles. I won’t try to downplay it. But there are advantages to using hydrogen as electricity storage for renewables such as even greater V2G capabilities than with just batteries. Hydrogen can be produced through a variety of methods, and methods such as ones using algae are still in their infancy–advances may make H2 production cheap, easy, and small-scale enough to be distributed (i.e. household production units). If the market forces create a favourable enough scenario for FC-based PHVs over all ICE-based vehicles, then the infrastructure will come, albeit slowly and likely with significant government help/subsities.

    To get to a truly ZEV future, I am all for pushing governments to enact the progressive policies needed to get us to first widespread adoption of EVs and PHVs and then ultimately to EVs and FC-based PHVs. I believe the whole us vs. them narrative between ICE-based PHV advocates and FC-based vehicle advocates needs to end as it is entirely counterproductive. What do you think about that?