Why the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle rollout may now succeed

Aug 15, 2014
Why the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle rollout may now succeed
Joan Ogden, director of the Next Sustainable Transportation Pathways (NextSTEPS) program at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, stands beside a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, a Honda FCX Clarity. (Credit: UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies/photo)

A convergence of factors is propelling a market rollout of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, according to a new study from the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. A key to hydrogen's potential success is a new smart solution that clusters hydrogen fuel infrastructure in urban or regional networks, limiting initial costs and enabling an early market for the technology before committing to a full national deployment, suggests the study.

The researchers behind the study, "The Hydrogen Transition," probe the variety of factors combining to increase the likelihood of successful -powered car commercialization. These include new thinking by government and industry on strategies for developing fuel station infrastructure, falling costs for and hydrogen station components, a new array of sporty hydrogen cars about to come to market from major car makers, ample low cost natural gas for making hydrogen, and the strengthening U.S. interest in climate change solutions.

"We seem to be tantalizingly close to the beginning of a hydrogen transition," said lead author Joan Ogden, professor of environmental science and policy and director of the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (NextSTEPS). "The next three to four years will be critical for determining whether are just a few years behind electric vehicles, rather than decades."

Having sufficient hydrogen fueling locations has been a major challenge. It's a "chicken or egg" dilemma where automakers are reluctant to market cars without infrastructure, and station providers are reluctant to build stations without cars. Recently, however, regional public-private partnerships are emerging to develop smart, comprehensive build-out strategies in different locations around the globe. These new infrastructure paradigms enable more efficient fueling networks, saving millions of dollars compared to earlier designs, and hold the promise of providing hydrogen conveniently and affordably.

ITS-Davis researchers calculated that a targeted regional investment of $100-$200 million in support of 100 stations for about 50,000 FCVs would be enough to make hydrogen cost-competitive with gasoline on a cost-per-mile basis. This level of investment is poised to happen in at least three places: California, Germany and Japan.

In California, the state recently awarded $46 million to build 28 hydrogen fuel stations. Hyundai is leasing its Tucson FCVs to select consumers, while several other car makers—Honda, Toyota, BMW, Nissan and Daimler—expect to have production vehicles on the road in the next few years. Toyota, whose fuel cell vehicles are set to hit the market next year, is also investing in hydrogen fueling infrastructure in the state.

"In many respects, hydrogen fuel cell cars offer consumer value similar or superior to today's gasoline cars," Ogden said. "The technology readily enables large vehicle size, a driving range of 300-400 miles, and a fast refueling time of three to five minutes. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could help us achieve a low carbon future—without compromising consumer expectations. Along with plug-in electric and efficient internal combustion engine vehicles, hydrogen is an important part of a portfolio approach to sustainable transportation."

Additional highlights from the study include:

  • Early and durable public policies are key to help launch hydrogen infrastructure and provide consumer incentives for purchasing vehicles. These may be similar to incentives for plug-in electrics, such as vehicle purchase subsidies, tax exemptions, free parking, and High Occupancy Vehicle lane access.
  • Global public funding of $1 billion a year on hydrogen supports research and development, deployment of power, and transportation applications. Automakers have spent more than $9 billion on fuel cell development. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, its public investments have spurred 6 to 9 times more in private investment.
  • The near-term prospects for plentiful, low-cost hydrogen are good. The boom in low-cost natural gas makes possible low-cost hydrogen, especially in the United States. Methods for cost-effectively producing low-carbon hydrogen from renewable sources hold promise for greater greenhouse gas emission reductions. Hydrogen FCV emissions are already less than half that of conventional gasoline vehicles, due to the greater efficiency of the fuel cell.
  • The long-term environmental, economic and societal benefits of hydrogen FCVs are significant. Fuel cost savings for customers and the reduced costs of air pollution, oil dependence and climate change outweigh transition costs by 10 to 1.
  • For California, having hydrogen as part of the fuel mix could be integral to the state reaching its twin goals of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Hydrogen FCVs are increasingly seen as a critical technology for reaching long-term climate goals, with the potential for capturing a major fraction of the world's "light duty" passenger car fleet by 2050.

However, the hydrogen transition is anything but certain.

"Hydrogen faces a range of challenges, from economic to societal, before it can be implemented as a large scale transportation fuel," Ogden said. "The question isn't whether vehicles are technically ready: They are. But how do you build confidence in hydrogen's future for investors, fuel suppliers, automakers, and, of course, for consumers?"

Explore further: WSU students win international hydrogen competition with fueling station design

More information: Read the report.

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MR166
1 / 5 (6) Aug 15, 2014
".....ample low cost natural gas for making hydrogen,......"

I find it impossible to believe that these "scientists" are really this ignorant. They must be pursuing this only for the money.

There are plenty of articles out there that cast doubt on the economic viability of fracking due to the fact that many of these wells will not produce enough gas to pay for themselves. Also, the US is shutting down coal mines at an alarming rate and using gas to generate electricity instead. Lastly, it is much more energy efficient to use natural gas directly as a fuel and skip the reforming step.

Natural gas stocks were depleted to dangerously low levels last winter due to the unusual cold weather and the hard fact is that as things stand now it could be in short supply in the very near future.
bearly
5 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
I just want a reliable fuel cell for my RV so I can have electricity when I want to "dry camp".
Hopefully one that can keep a large RV supplied with juice for a month at least.
Osiris1
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
I heard of no such shortages. In fact, LNG bulk prices nosedived since the advent of 'fracking' and have not really risen taking the year into consideration although local variations due to other factors like local monopoly or/and corruption and crookedness could skew the numbers. On the other hand, fracking IS harmful to the ground and groundwater as witness earthquakes in areas even without historical or even anecdotal records. Best is a crash program of foto-voltaics and their installation. Over time the prices will come down even further. They produce energy forever, just like the sun. OK, not exact forever but that is relative. Anyway all they need is to be dusted and occasionally cleaned. Have enuf and you sit back and collect checks 'forever'. Don't have enuf and you pay thru the nose forever. Course the petrol industry is financing the envirofreaks that shed great crocodile tears over some worthless critter in deserts that are perfect for solar...to cost you yer $$
MR166
1 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
http://www.zerohe...-exposed

"I heard of no such shortages."

There are a lot more older articles about the economic problems with fracking.
MR166
1 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
To think that solar cells "produce forever" is not realistic. In fact, something as low tech as a solar hot water heating system has proven to be uneconomical when maintenance costs are included. Most of these systems hot water have been abandoned.
nicolatesla
3.3 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
It's a deception. Hydrogen will be far less efficient than pure electric.
There is no such thing as an emission free automobile.
phprof
1.3 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
Let me see. Did I fail first year physics? How is this more efficient in energy they just burning gasoline? Until another method for getting energy is found/developed it is just a waste of effort.
Thylacine
5 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2014
MMM. No the idea is to keep us addicted to an expensive commodity we have to buy. I drive a tesla. I buy tires and windshield wipers (and fluid). If I charge at home (I don't have to) I spend 50 bucks a month, and I drive fast and often. (30 K miles since October)

This is just bait and switch. A little cleaner..maybe.
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2014
Car, trucks, buses. My house.
Urgelt
3 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2014
Just proof that the fossil fuel industry funds 'science' that champions its causes. Their aim is to get government to subsidize hydrogen fuel cell transportation and infrastructure, so they can bring more natural gas to market.

Hydrogen is a miserable fuel. To get usable power densities you have to compress it, which uses huge amounts of energy and increases costs dramatically. It leaks; containing it is problematical. And the most economical source is natural gas, the production of which emits CO2 and methane into the atmosphere at prodigious rates.

The prospects for increasing power density are nonexistent. What you have today with compressed hydrogen is what you'll get tomorrow. Contrast that with chemical batteries, which are slowly but steadily improving the power to weight ratio and will continue to do so.

With electrical propulsion, we already have a distribution infrastructure. The only thing wrong with it is it doesn't generate profits for the fossil fuel industry.
PPihkala
1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2014
The only way hydrogen will be used in future will probably be the way http://www.solarh...ends.com does it. Such a converter could be in any vehicle to provide hydrogen on demand, while it is being consumed by ICE or fuel cell. Actually this tech will make any other way to buy energy obsolete. The only negative I can see with this tech is that it destroys oxygen when it is converted to hydrogen.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2014
Urgelt you are correct when you say that H2 is useless as a fuel for the reasons mentioned but incorrect about the political forces behind it. Big oil would be very glad to sell you natural gas to run your cars without the waste of conversion. The real fact is that we do not have enough of it for use as both a transportation fuel and for electric production.

PPihkala the company that you linked to looks to be a total scam since it product appears to violate the laws of physics. You cannot create energy by separating H2 from water. The process always takes more energy than it produces.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2014
There are plenty of articles out there that cast doubt on the economic viability of fracking due to the fact that many of these wells will not produce enough gas to pay for themselves
A certain percentage of oil and gas wells are always unproductive. I think you are just reading the wrong articles.

"the United States has a "total available future supply of 2,688 trillion cubic feet," according to the committee... That's enough to supply the United States, at current consumption levels, for about 105 years. In 2012, the United States consumed about 25.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the EIA."

"Marcellus shale contains 141 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of unproved technically recoverable natural gas."

-And that's only here. The world has unlimited supplies to import.

My question is, why convert NG to H2? The supply and distribution already exists for NG. It's easier to transport and store. Just keep using it in vehicles until the hydrino and the hot cat mature.
Toiea
2 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2014
It's simple calculus. The hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels in the same ratio, as before fifty years. Why hydrogen fueled cars should succeed more, than before fifty years? They don't bring any advantage for it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2014
the other hand, fracking IS harmful to the ground and groundwater as witness earthquakes in areas even without historical or even anecdotal records
Most of these earthquakes cause no damage and most are not even noticeable. In contrast, dams and the reservoirs they create produce devastating earthquakes.

"Globally, there are over 100 identified cases of earthquakes that scientists believe were triggered by reservoirs (see Gupta 2002). The most serious case may be the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which killed an estimated 80,000 people"
MR166
1.5 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2014
Otto the H2 ploy is just another grab for taxpayer funding. The rational behind it is to capture the CO2 from natural gas at a central location, sequester it somehow and use the remaining H2 as fuel. The whole process reeks of squandered energy and makes no sense if one feels that INEXPENSIVE (actual cost and EROI) fossil energy is in short supply.
holoman
3 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2014
Free Seawater can produce cheap hydrogen and help the oceans environment

http://thomasinst...bly.com/

MR166
3 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2014
""Globally, there are over 100 identified cases of earthquakes that scientists believe were triggered by reservoirs (see Gupta 2002). The most serious case may be the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which killed an estimated 80,000 people""

Otto, just for giggles, let me ask you this question. Is the above fact a reason not to build a new reservoir or does the cost benefit ratio say build? Say it would produce electric power and be a reliable source of water for agriculture and drinking.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2014
not to build a new reservoir or does the cost benefit ratio say build?
Well lets discuss the relative cost benefits of the following.

"The Banqiao dam and Shimantan Reservoir Dam are among 62 dams in Zhumadian that failed catastrophically or were intentionally destroyed in 1975 during Typhoon Nina.

"The dam failures killed an estimated 171,000 people; 11 million people lost their homes. It also caused the sudden loss of 18 GW of power[citation needed], the power output equivalent of roughly 9 very large modern coal-fired thermal power stations."

-Or how about the benefits of this?

"Three Gorges Dam—the world's largest—had the potential of becoming one of China's biggest environmental nightmares... landslides caused by increased pressure on the surrounding land, a rise in waterborne disease... 3,000 tons of rubbish was being collected at the dam every day"

-Sounds pretty costly to me.
MR166
3 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2014
"Sounds pretty costly to me."

Got your point, all dams should be dismantled and places like California should return to their natural desert state.
Also the floods that they prevent are a necessary part of nature.
chrisn566
1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2014
This is just a way for our government to keep our wallets chained to pumps. Its more profitable to charge for Hydrogen then electricity,and they know it. Thus the push to make Hydrogen the fuel of choice.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2014
Well of course floods are a necessary part of nature. Dams can make them worse.

"Orissa is reeling under yet another flood -- called the 'Super Flood'... almost 4.5 million people -- more than 11% of Orissa's total population -- have been directly and significantly affected. Crops on 4.78 lakh hectares of land -- nearly 7.5% of total cultivable land -- have been destroyed. At least 68 deaths have been reported so far... Water management experts point out that the Hirakud reservoir may have turned a relatively moderate flood into a mega flood, underlining once again that dams are not the answer to managing floods... intercept only 16% of flood waters... extreme floods in the Mahanadi delta between 1960 and 1980 were three times more frequent than before the Hirakud was built."

-Politicians and construction companies and real estate tycoons want you to believe otherwise.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2014
And dams have limited lifetimes

""trap efficiency" – approaches 100 per cent for many projects, especially those with large reservoirs. As the sediments accumulate in the reservoir, so the dam gradually loses its ability to store water for the purposes for which it was built... by 1986 around 1,100 cubic kilometres of sediment had accumulated in the world's reservoirs, consuming almost one–fifth of global storage capacity... time and again dam planners have made hugely overoptimistic predictions that reservoirs will fill much more slowly than they actually do... now rapidly filling with sediment, leaving small, impoverished countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica with huge debts and in desperate need of building new power plants to reduce their dependence on their white–elephant dams... could reduce the life of the 135 MW Cerron Grande Dam in El Salvador to 30 years – compared to the pre–construction prediction of 350 years..." Etcetcetc
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2014
And dams are costly to remove

"San Clemente Dam was built in 1921... But now it's obsolete and at risk of collapsing in an earthquake. And its reservoir is so silted up with sand and gravel that it hasn't been used to supply water since 2002... construction crews on Friday were to begin a three-year, $84 million project to tear down the hulking landmark - California's largest dam-removal project ever... Cal Am will provide $49 million by raising rates on its 110,000 water customers in Monterey County. An additional $25 million will come from the California Coastal Conservancy in Oakland, through state parks and water bonds. The remaining $10 million will come from federal grants and private donations... The Carmel river will be permanently rerouted for half a mile into an adjacent stream, San Clemente Creek. The giant sediment pile will be blocked off on either end... an estimated 2.5 million cubic yards, or enough to fill 250,000 dump trucks..." Etcetcetc
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2014

Got your point, all dams should be dismantled and places like California should return to their natural desert
This is already being done out of necessity

"The largest dam removal project in U.S. history was the work two years ago to tear down the 110-foot Elwha Dam and 210-foot Glines Dam on the Elwha River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, both of which were silted up and obsolete. In California, the largest dam ever removed was the 55-foot Sweasey Dam on the Mad River near Eureka in 1970 after it silted up. About 50 smaller dams in California, mostly 10 feet or so high, have been removed in the past 20 years. A $150 million project to tear down the 165-foot Matilija Dam in Ventura County, Calif., which is also silted up, was approved in 2004 by county officials but has been mired in delays because of funding shortfalls and fights between environmentalists and the Army Corps of Engineers over what to do with the silt..." Etcetcetc

-Dams are usually a very bad idea.
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2014
While fighting for "renewables" that are intermittent sources of power at best the green movement has been fighting against hydro-electric power with a vengeance. In fact, hydro-electric does not even count when computing the percentage of power obtained from renewables in some states.

They don't want to solve the problem, they just want your money to line their wallets and pay off their friends!
casual
not rated yet Aug 18, 2014
Hydrogen is a miserable fuel. To get usable power densities you have to compress it, which uses huge amounts of energy and increases costs dramatically. It leaks; containing it is problematical. And the most economical source is natural gas, the production of which emits CO2 and methane into the atmosphere at prodigious rates.


no, ammonia is used for high density storage, which is cheap method of storing hydrogen at great energy densities needed for to be cost effective.

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