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….
So I wrote in a 2005 journal article, “The car and fuel of the future,” which was the “hottest article” in Energy Policy from July 2006 through March 2007 (and still #8 as recently as September 2008).
So after the Bush administration squandered some $2 billion on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, it was welcome news that our Nobel-prize-winning Energy Secretary Steven Chu submitted a budget that sharply scaled back the hydrogen fuel cell program and shifted it away from a focus on transportation (see “Hydrogen car R.I.P. Secretary Chu agrees with Climate Progress and slashes hydrogen budget“).
Now some hydrogen advocates — and even some environmental groups! — are trying to restore the money, which is much more urgently needed helping to develop and deploy clean technologies that could save energy and reduce pollution in the near-and medium-term. I’ll blog on that effort later.
First, however, I wanted to once and for all lay out the case against hydrogen as a transport fuel, starting with an excerpt of almost my entire Energy Policy piece. I think it is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in understanding the challenges facing alternative fuels.
This paper is based on a review of the technical literature on alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) and discussions with experts in vehicle technology and energy analysis. It is derived from analysis provided to the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy.
The urgent need to reverse the business-as-usual growth path in global warming pollution in the next two decades to avoid serious if not catastrophic climate change necessitates action to make our vehicles far less polluting.
In the near-term, by far the most cost-effective strategy for reducing emissions and fuel use is efficiency. The car of the near future is the hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle, because it can reduce gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions 30 to 50% with no change in vehicle class and hence no loss of jobs or compromise on safety or performance. It will likely become the dominant vehicle platform by the year 2020.
Ultimately, we will need to replace gasoline with a zero-carbon fuel. All AFV pathways require technology advances and strong government action to succeed. Hydrogen is the most challenging of all alternative fuels, particularly because of the enormous effort needed to change our existing gasoline infrastructure.
The most promising AFV pathway is a hybrid that can be connected to the electric grid. These so-called plug-in hybrids will likely travel three to four times as far on a kilowatt-hour of renewable electricity as fuel cell vehicles…. Read more