I’ve been on jury duty, so it seemed a good time to launch a new occasional feature, “Stories We Missed.” These are stories we didn’t get around to blogging on at the time.
Speaking of the legal system, the ChiPs are down for the California hydrogen highway cul de sac — literally. The future Ponches and Jons of the California Highway Patrol won’t be policing the hydrogen highway.
As Green Car Reports explained in a piece from this summer, “RIP Hydrogen Highway? California Takes Back Grant Dollars.”
… the future of hydrogen vehicles depends on a network of filling stations to allow people to go about their journeys as normal.
That future has taken a blow in California, with the news that $27 million in grants for hydrogen filling stations has been revoked by the California Energy Commission.
According to the Santa Monica Mirror (via Autoblog Green), the grants have been revoked so the state can reassess the grant process, after complaints that Linde Group and Air Products & Chemicals (AP&C)–two companies set to use around two-thirds of the grant money–had largely self-dealt the contracts.
… there are questions about how green the hydrogen actually is–since much of the fuel Linde and AP&C will sell is from natural gas, rather than renewable sources. Air products has said that one third of its hydrogen will be extracted from landfill biogas, meeting the state’s one-third-renewable energy requirements by 2020.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) require multiple technological (and other) miracles to succeed as practical, affordable, carbon-reducing consumer vehicles — and they require every plausible competitor, including electric vehicles, to fail first (see “Hydrogen fuel cell cars are a dead end from a technological, practical, and climate perspective” and “The car of the perpetual future” — The Economist agrees with Climate Progress on hydrogen).
Using fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen from zero-carbon sources such as renewable power or nuclear energy has 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….
Nothing that would significantly change that calculation has happened in the last few years. Moreover, as The Economist noted a few years ago, 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!
Running HFCVs on natural gas makes no sense at all since the full life-cycle GHG emissions (including methane leakage) are merely comparable to the best gasoline hybrids. Also, building an expensive hydrogen fueling infrastructure over the next two decades around a fossil fuel would vastly increase the total long-term cost since that infrastructure would have to be replaced in the two decades after that by carbon-free hydrogen fueling stations.
These are but a few of the reasons the incredibly expensive infrastructure will never be built. No independent group ever proposed a plausible scenario under which the infrastructure would be built, so it’s no surprise California couldn’t figure it out. And that’s the fundamental reason hydrogen cars will not be practical or a cost-effective climate strategy in your lifetime. Or, as The Economist put it,
In other words, claims that hydrogen will be the automotive fuel of the future are as true today as they ever have been.