By on August 18, 2014

hyundai-fuel-cell-tucson-california

Though EVs currently hold the high ground in the zero-emission vehicle market, a new report claims those vehicles will be giving ground to hydrogen in the near future.

According to The Detroit News, the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis says a number of factors are coming together to push hydrogen to the forefront over electricity, including: investments in infrastructure; falling R&D costs for both vehicles and station equipment; and major automakers throwing their weight behind fuel cells. UC Davis professor and director of Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways Joan Ogden explains:

We seem to be tantalizingly close to the beginning of a hydrogen transition. The next three to four years will be critical for determining whether hydrogen vehicles are just a few years behind electric vehicles, rather than decades.

Other factors include natural gas-based hydrogen production, various consumer incentives from federal and local governments, and large investments in R&D. However, Ogden cautions that adoption of hydrogen as a viable source of transportation may take some time due to low confidence in the fuel at the present.

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57 Comments on “Report: Hydrogen Gaining Ground On Electricity Within Four Years...”


  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    and it’s complete and utter BS. Hydrogen will never overtake gasoline or electrical if but for no other reason than both have 100+ year old distribution systems that are already paid for. there is no way that a entirely new distribution and logistics infrastructure is going to spring up overnight and challenge petroleum or electricity.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      and I wonder how Homeland Security feels about 10,000 psi gas tanks getting parked in building basement garages or driving though places like the Holland tunnel.

      • 0 avatar
        VCplayer

        “and I wonder how Homeland Security feels about 10,000 psi gas tanks getting parked in building basement garages or driving though places like the Holland tunnel.”

        I don’t think a hydrogen tank explosion is that much more violent than a gasoline tank explosion. Actually, the hydrogen should in theory burn out faster while burning at a lower temperature than gas.

        Our collective consciousness is heavily influenced by the Hindenburg disaster to think of hydrogen as good for nothing but exploding/burning, but really gas is a pretty awful substance from a safety perspective too, which we’ve learned to deal with pretty well.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Oh the humanity!

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            People often loose sight with the Hindenburg how many people lived. I doubt that many would have lived had the bag been filled with gasoline vapors (not that gasoline vapors will let you fly…)

          • 0 avatar
            Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

            Oh the JAPANity!

            Hikeeba!

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          In the case of a hydrogen tank, it’s more the explosive decompression of a ruptured tank that is the safety hazard. If something in the pressurized side of of the fuel system is compromised, the result could be quite spectacular, and deadly. CNG buses have their fuel tanks on the roof, out of the path of most accidents, and are professionally, and regularly maintained. If hydrogen were to gain wide acceptance, at some point in time there will have to be mandatory inspections, or else there will be the occasional explosive decompression.

          Gasoline tanks only explode in Hollywood. A ruptured fuel tank can cause a deadly fire, but it will not explode, as the amount of oxygen in a fuel tank is not sufficient.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          >> I don’t think a hydrogen tank explosion is that much more violent than a gasoline tank explosion.

          Remember, these tanks are at 70 MPa – 10152.64 psi. Even fresh mountain air at 10,000 psi is going to do some serious damage. Again 10,000 psi. My concern is if someone deliberately detonates one of these things in either a tunnel or a parking garage under a building. If the hydrogen is ignited, the flame temperature is 3,700 degrees f – I think gasoline is about 1,600f.

          The 10,000 psi number is from Toyota:
          http://www.toyota-global.com/innovation/environmental_technology/fuelcell_vehicle/

    • 0 avatar
      Sgt Beavis

      I tend to agree with you mainly because no one has developed any sort of long term storage for hydrogen. How often would we find people coming home from a vacation only to find that their fuel has all boiled off.

      The current and next generation of batteries are not quite up to snuff for electric to go main stream but they are a heck of a lot closer than hydrogen. A couple more generations and batteries will be where they need to be and electric car sales will skyrocket.

      BTW, our electrical grid isn’t up to snuff for this kind of thing either. It can handle the electric cars we have now but we’re going to have to rebuild a lot of it to handle the millions of cars we currently have. We are also going to have to seriously address electric generation capacity.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Just look at how horribly cell phones have failed! The very idea that 4 separate companies would blanket the US with 4G cell phone towers when we have a perfectly good landline infrastructure proves how stupid hydrogen is.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        But it has taken decades for the cellular phone system to reach what it is today and in its infancy it relied heavily on the existing land line infrastructure for it to work and still does to some extent.

        Hydrogen as a motor vehicle fuel can not really rely on the existing infrastructure to build its own infrastructure.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          I’m still not overwhelmed by the logistics for hydrogen. If Starbucks can put a store on every street corner in most major cities globally, why couldn’t Exxon start 1,000 hydrogen fueling stations?

          The key issues are technical feasibility and business case. Infrastructure is easy.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            Gas stations are franchises. Exxon doesn’t go out and do all that work.

          • 0 avatar
            FormerFF

            Think about it. The hydrogen has to be separated from natural gas somewhere. It could be done at a refinery, but then how do you get it to the retail site? You either have to build a pipeline from that refinery to each and every retail location, or you have to compress the hell out of it and load it into a very expensive truck full of pressure containers. If you choose the truck method, how do you transfer it to the retail site? Do you remove the pressure container from the truck, or do you transfer the gas? If you transfer the gas, you’re going to have to wind up compressing half of it again to get it out of the truck.

            Now, when the customer comes by to to fill his car, as the station’s pressure container empties, you have to start compressing the gas again to get it up to the pressure needed to fuel the car. All this compressing takes electricity.

            Or, maybe you want to separate the hydrogen from the natural gas at the retail point? That’s a rather serious investment for each station, not to mention a safety risk. I don’t know all that many communities that want that anywhere near a residential or commercial area.

            Now, when you’re done, you have a fueled vehicle that was expensive to buy and costs as much to fuel as does a gasoline car, at least as long as natural gas is cheap. If natural gas becomes as expensive as it was 10 years ago, then it will cost more to fuel than a gasoline powerered car.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        If the only place you could use your cell phone was at one fixed location, like a landline, then the cell phone would have failed as a product. It gained acceptance because of the mobile aspect. Once it became fully deployed, it then was able to supplant the landline in residential service.

        The hydrogen car isn’t a similar improvement in the average person’s life. The zero tailpipe emissions aspect might be valuable in a few cities, but for most of the country the emissions from a late model car are low enough.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Those angry little Hyundai CUVs, with the aggressive eyebrows, pointy cheekbones & ripped belt lines, look like Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles.

    In fact, more and more new vehicles are styled to look like Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, irrespective of the segment they occupy.

    I henceforth declare this brave new era of auto/car/CUV styling to be the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle era.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I was thinking of how similar they are to the new Subaru Legacy. And thusly the Sonata.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Most car makers are really cribbing each others’ styling cues to such a high degree that they’re mostly starting to meld into one undecipherable blob and sea of ambiguity.

        This has happened at different intervals in car styling eras, but never to this degree, IMO.

        I realize I sound like an angry old late 30something, so, GET OFF MY LAWN YOU DAMN KIDS!

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          To me the cars of the 30s all looked the exact same. Tall radiator grille, long hood with louvres, big headlamps, black, chrome. This is of course with a nod in exception to something stunning like a Talbot or Delahaye.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    So we suspend the laws of Thermodynamics and throw some incentives in to make hydrogen viable?

  • avatar
    Luke42

    “Report: Hydrogen Gaining Ground On Electricity Within Four Years”

    LOL. Maybe in the CARB compliance car market.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      That is the exactly why they exist. I won’t say it’s the only reason, but without CARB requirements, they wouldn’t exist.

      Will they gain on EVs? Sure. All they have to do is sell two of them and their market share will shoot up (on a percentage basis).

      • 0 avatar
        j_slez

        It’s very true that CARB is the reason that they will exist. The main reason is a little-known provision within the CARB requirements. Starting in 2018, all manufacturers will be required to sell zero-emmission vehicles in all 8 CARB coalition states – California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. However, if they ZEV they’re selling is a hydrogen car, they can skip the other 7 and only sell in CA. So if you’re an automaker, and you can sell X hydrogen cars in CA or ~20X BEVs in 8 states, which would you do?

    • 0 avatar

      Hydrogen cars can be quickly refuelled and the refuel times are comparable to an ICE engine. This is worth 3 extra ZEV credits. Range can be increased in fuel cell cars without much increase in cost unlike electric cars. A 100 Mile EV would need more than double the battery capacity of a 50 mile EV almost doubling the car’s cost. 100 mile fuel cell vehicle wouldn’t cost double a 50 mile FCV to build. Every 50 mile increment in range is worth one credit.

      FCVs are a sham to game the zev credit system though I am not really sure why a company like Toyota that rarely gets anything wrong is pursuing fuel cells. This is the reason several automakers that rarely collaborate are working together to develop fuel cells. They want to keep costs as low as possible and sell only as many fuel cells as they need to.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “I am not really sure why a company like Toyota that rarely gets anything wrong is pursuing fuel cells.”

        Car companies have very little that they contribute to improving batteries; they don’t need to make battery-powered cars today in order to take advantage of advances in battery technology tomorrow (if they occur.) But automakers are likely to play a role in improving hydrogen fuel cells and the related systems if they can be made viable.

        If batteries do make strides or are replaced by something better, then those improvements will probably come from a research lab, and TMC and every other automaker can simply start using them. But if hydrogen can be made to work, then it would be an advantage to have first-hand experience with it.

  • avatar
    redav

    Is this the overly optimistic paper written by hydrogen fanbois who have been convinced that the hydrogen economy is just around the corner for the last 25 yrs? The paper funded by every oil company & hydrogen supplier? The paper that discusses cheap natural gas, but fails to mention fracking? Because if it’s that paper, then … yeah.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    “We seem to be tantalizingly close to the beginning”

    Not at all tentative, are we?

  • avatar
    TR4

    Two pounds of propane at 200 psi is WAY too dangerous to be used in an automotive air conditioning system. But several dozen pounds of hydrogen at 10,000 psi is just fine for the vehicle’s propulsion system. Got it?

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      36 lbs of liquid hydrogen will take up 8 cubic feet of a highly advanced fuel tank. Don’t ask me how you would fit it into less than a large SUV. Highly compressed gas would be even worse. The answer is simple, you won’t have that much hydrogen in the car/truck.

      Some exersizes for the reader:

      How many hydrogen stations will you need if you are driving an SUV sized for an 8 cubic foot tank with the equivilent of 6 gallons of gas in the tank?

      How do you fill all those stations if you need to send 10 times as many fuel trucks (remember, this is for the best case of liquid hydrogen, all bets are off for compressed gas). Also remember that those hydrogen tanks are going to be seriously expensive vs. a gasoline truck.

      How do you solve the chicken and egg problem of so many hydrogen stations needed before a car makes sense? At what point does Toyota relize that making extra-heavy duty golf carts would get CARB off their back and might even sell a few?

      The last I heard, ammonia was seriously suggested as a fuel cell stock. Even a poisonous gas stored at high pressure makes more sense than hydrogen.

  • avatar

    If CAFE folks want to make a difference they would push natural gas. Fuel cells make no sense unless Hydrogen could be made economically through electrolysis using wind/solar energy.

    Why expend a lot of energy to extract hydrogen from natural gas, spend billions developing fuel cell vehicles, billions more for storage and refuelling infrastructure, add costs to consumers and automakers when you could just burn that natural gas to propel said car. Are CO2 emissions any lower for H2 extracted from natural gas?

    Natural gas is cheap, clean, domestic and abundant. Yes fracking is bad but considering almost all h2 has to be made from Natural gas whats the point?

  • avatar

    Hydrogen vs BEV is shaping up to be the next VHS/Betamax, Blueray/HDDVD like struggle. This struggle will be waged *not* on technical or financial merits but in the minds of consumers who don’t understand how their current vehicles are built/operate. Technical pros and cons are almost irrelevant to the consumer.

    I can see this struggle going either way.

    The cost of building the hydrogen infrastructure pales in comparison to the loss in future revenues for oil companies if BEV’s become mainstream. They face losing 75% of the transportation energy market to the electric utilities. EV drivers charge at home/work at least 75% of the time. The picture gets worse as BEV ranges increase and EV Drivers charge away from home less and less.

    Car Manufacturers don’t want to build fast charge infrastructure (except Tesla), they are accustomed to someone else taking care of fuel infrastructure.

    Electric Utilities are asleep at the wheel. They think they are in the electric utility business rather than the energy business and don’t have the marketing prowess to sell their ‘fuel’ to the transportation sector. They need to build fast charge infrastructure, but they just don’t know it. Utilities don’t realize a fast charge station is the same as a gasoline pump, the energy company needs to build retail outlets in order to sell their product to the transportation sector. Oil companies have the retail properties in handy dandy spots already. The heavy regulation the utility companies both benefit from and suffer from, stifles innovative thinking, they have their market locked up by law, why take a risk on something new? It’s not in their DNA.

    Toyota and the oil companies will ensure that the consumers are very very aware of the BEV drawbacks. Limited range and longer refueling times. They won’t feel encouraged to be fair and will overstate the drawbacks for BEV’s and trot out out-dated studies and media articles.

    What may trip up Hydrogen adoption is if fracking is banned. Natural Gas is described chemically as CH4. There is lots of Hydrogen to be acquired when you strip that carbon atom off. Without Natural Gas, other methods of getting Hydrogen are simply too expensive, at least at today’s prices. A ban on fracking could set the Hydrogen car back decades.

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      Just where do you think all the electricity for the BEVs will come from? While avoiding nuclear is pretty insane, that seems to be pretty much a done deal. Hint: the electricity isn’t coming from unicorn farts.

      “cost of building the hydrogen infrastructure pales in comparison” here’s a clue: the range of hydrogen fueled cars isn’t going to be that much further than BEVs. Remember that liquid hydrogen has a density 1/10th of gasoline. That is a huge fuel tank that is unbelievably expensive and *always* leaking. Also remember that BEVs are fueled up when they start (everybody has electrity straight to the home, nobody has the same for hydrogen), so the hydrogen car has to drive to the hydrogen station.

      Now how many hydrogen stations do you have to build in each city? It might not have the issue of long distance travel that BEVs do, but you will need to refuel after local runs and commuting. Now figure that each hydrogen station has to be refueled by 10 times as many hydrogen trucks (again understanding that each hydrogen truck has to have a fuel tank made for the worst possible fuel at extreme expense).

      Arstechnica has a good write up on the possiblity of ammonia as a fuel cell stock. http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/07/hydrogen-powered-cars-may-be-fueled-by-stored-ammonia/
      There is a reason that it included the line (and running joke) that “whenever someone says ‘hydrogen economy’ an engineer clubs a baby seal”.

      • 0 avatar

        I believe Elon Musk is on record as saying that we will have plenty of electricity for BEV’s if we were to stop refining gasoline (an energy intense process). Also realize that electricity demand is significantly down since 2007, in part due to lower economic activity and in part to more efficient buildings/homes/processes. There is no ‘capacity issue’ to speak of.

        The 2015 Toyota Fool Cell vehicle has a stated 300 miles of range. Probably exaggerated, let’s say 240 real world. Only the Tesla can match that. 3-5 minutes refueling time is superior.

        Don’t misuderstand me. I am not pro Hydrogen, I’m pro BEV, I do see all the drawbacks which are significant. However for the reasons I stated, the struggle for the market is in the minds of the consumer. As long as someone takes care of the technical stuff for them and they don’t have to change their habits. i..e. refueling Hydrogen is very similar to gasoline from a consumer perspective, consumers will accept Hydrogen like lemmings to the slaughter. But that is still a distinct possibility as to how it plays out.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          All it takes is for one nut to find a way to detonate those 10,000 psi tanks and the government will confiscate every single one of them the next day.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          I don’t get the consumer motivation to move to hydrogen. A BEV is expensive to buy, but very inexpensive to fuel, and in town, provides a much better driving experience than does a gasoline fueled car. A hydrogen vehicle is very expensive to buy, and apparently will cost the same to fuel as a gasoline powered car. It provides that same better driving experience in town. It also has the potential to be (relatively) quickly refueled. I say relatively because the real world filling of very highly pressurized containers is still a bit up in the air.

          Every BEV owner that I know of has another car, none of them takes their LEAF on highway trips. (I’m not wealthy enough to know any Tesla owners.) Unless EVs with ranges in the 200+ mile range become common, I think this will be the norm, at least in the U. S., so I don’t think that charging stations are all that important for now.

          Can I propose another solution? At the current state of battery technology, a PHEV is economically viable right now. I drive the PHEV version of the Fusion. The price difference between the PHEV and an identically equipped gasoline engine one is $6000, and I’m saving slightly more than $1000 per year in energy costs, a payback period of slightly less than six years before any incentives or rebates. You still mostly get an EV driving experience, and it’s nice only going to the gas station ever two months.

          There may be a time when longer range BEVs are priced to where they make economic sense, but we’re not there yet. Hydrogen, I can’t see ever being practical, there are too many built in disadvantages.

          • 0 avatar

            I believe Toyota are making a long bet on Hydrogen. In the short term the cars will be expensive and other alternatives like PHEV’s are more attractive. Toyota will push their hybrid vehicles as much as possible as the ‘more attractive’ option until gasoline gets so expensive as to make Hydrogen more attractive.

            In the meantime they will do everything they can to undermine plug-ins together with the Oil Companies.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I personally believe that travel to/from the local hydrogen station should be included in the quoted “refuel times.” If the nearest one is 30 min away, that’s an hour of your day wasted to refuel, and then the charge-at-home nature of batteries looks better.

        Also, I’ve heard reports that the fast-as-gasoline refueling for hydrogen isn’t a reality yet. Getting to those highest pressures would require either a hellalot of power or a pump with lower displacement volume (i.e., slower fill rate).

        • 0 avatar

          I agree, and gasoline cars should also have to include the travel time to/from the gas station.

          EV’s are charged at home, but gasoline/Hydrogen can only be refueled at a oil company emporium (very convenient for them, but not the consumer).

          For the city dweller the distance to the gas station is trivial, but live out in the sticks, you maybe looking at a 20+ mile drive to the closest gas station. Whereas the EV can be charged in your driveway/garage.

          Glad you brought that up.

      • 0 avatar
        spw

        If I was you, I would read up on FCV before posting uninformed comments. Toyota already announced details about their production FCV vehicle and infrastructure that is coming online… FCV is Corolla/Camry sized and has a range of 500 miles in Japan/ 300 in US, with 5kg of compressed hydrogen. Two tanks are small enough to be mounted in Corolla sized vehicle, that is also a hybrid and has battery as well.

    • 0 avatar
      spw

      what is really silly about these claims of big oil behind hydrogen is that big oil is already behind sun and wind power generation – some of the biggest companies in renewable energy field are owned by major oil companies.

  • avatar
    carve

    The biggest problem with hydrogen is this: where do you get the hydrogen?

    Suppose you get it by reforming natural gas. You extract the hydrogen from the gas, use about 1/3 of that energy to cryogenically compress it, much more to distribute it (it can’t use pipelines, and even if it could you’d still need 5-10x as many fuel trucks), and then you run it into exotic fuel tanks and finally relatively efficient fuel cells that so far depend on expensive and exotic materials. Why not just use our existing natural gas infrastructure and burn the natural gas in cars? Converting existing designs to natural gas is trivially simple and cheap in comparisson. It’s probably comparably beneficial to the environment on a per-car basis, but that doesn’t matter because this will be implemented a couple of orders of magnitude faster on the same money. We could also starte with duel-fuel CNG/Gasoline cars, that meter in some CNG along with the gas or can run on either entirely. You can run a higher compression ratio with CNG, too. Don’t mention ammonia; that’s made from natural gas, too and will require just as much energy. It’s so toxic that even though it is a cheap and very efficient refridgerant, it’s seldom used around people due to safety reasons.

    Option two is to make they hydrogen from electrolysis of water. You still have the distribution and storage headaches, but now you’re consuming a ton of electricity to make the H2. This’ll probalby come from fossil fuels for a long time, including natural gas. Gas->electricity->H2 is much less efficient than gas->H2 in a reformer. Well to wheel efficiency is about 1/3 of that of a battery electric car. The physics of H2 storage are about maxed out, too, while batteries keep getting better and better. Battery swap stations are even quicker than filling a tank if you’re in a hurry, too.

    So, hydrogen is inferior to CNG combustion if you need range, and inferior to batteries in shorter range situations, has no infrastructure, and is environmentally more costly than either. The only way it should even be considered is if we build massive amounts of breeder and thorium reactors and have cheap and abundant clean power.

    Speaking of electricity generation, large power plants can’t be throtteled very easily. Base load is carried by plants that run full-tilt 24/7. At night, much of this electricity is wasted. However, night is when electric cars will do much of their charging. We could power an enormous portion of our cars with essentially zero additional carbon footprint.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I support the Pickens plan to convert our heavy-industry vehicles to natural gas (semis, delivery trucks, etc.), and recoup the loss going to electricity generation through renewables, particularly wind.

      The plan accomplishes what is needed: reduced total consumption of imported oil, reduced overall CO2 emissions, reduce pollution from the vehicle fleet. The problem with CARB, et al, is that they seem to focus too narrowly on a single aspect–the individual car–rather than the entire energy picture. For example, we had cash-for-clunkers to take old, inefficient, polluting cars off the road. Well, our old, inefficient, polluting houses are doing just as much damage.

      • 0 avatar
        martinwinlow

        NG would be a better bet than H2 but I’d rather see a sensible rail infrastructure re-established than all those woefully (collectively-speaking) inefficient trucks hammering along the highways and byways of the USA (and the world, FTM).

        Going back to H2 FCVs for a moment, no-one has actually put a number on the cost of the infrastructure here. By my rough estimate it will cost about US$12 billion to install H2 refuelling stations that number just 1/20th of the number of existing gas stations in the US. That cost, of course, does not include all the H2 manufacturing plants that would be needed, nor all the distribution network, whatever form that may take i.e. trains/trucks and/or pipelines.

        Better plan is to stick with BEVs as you can ‘roll your own’ energy on your roof. And if you can have electric powered ships and trains you can have electric powered trucks and vans. MW

  • avatar
    dwright

    Everybody seems to be ignoring the big green elephant in the room. That all these trillions of $$$ being spent on the premise that reducing atmospheric CO2 by a few thousandths of a percent will somehow affect global warming or climate change.

    Keep paying the snake oil salesman, he’ll keep selling you snake oil.

    I don’t want to argue, I’ll bring facts, you’ll bring empty rhetoric, no one will win.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In 4 years, the H2 carmakers will be rethinking their plans, attempting to back out of this ridiculous path.

  • avatar
    sparc

    Whoever wrote this report is living in some hydrogen dreamland. Hydrogen infrastructure is non-existent. Anyone who is looking to setup a refueling station is looking for government handout. It will take decades of serious investment to set up anything that could compete even remotely with electricity. Electricity is widely available. We just have to plug in like Tesla is doing with their superchargers.

    • 0 avatar

      Your analysis and logic is impeccable. However reality has a way of turning out differently than it “Should”. Read my longer posting above for my arguments why Hydrogen does have a better chance than a snowball in hell. Hydrogen may win the minds of the public, for totally illogical reasons.

  • avatar

    Behold the awesome power of government incentives to distort reality.

    And making H2 out of NG is just super retarded for transportation purposes. It’s one thing when H2 is renewable, and this is entirely different.


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