By on February 5, 2009

Same as it ever was. Green Car Congress covers a DOE report (pdf) to the U.S. Congress on its $1.2b Hydrogen fuel cell development caucus, and the conclusion is clear: keep waiting. The DOE had harbored a shockingly naive hope that OEMs would be able to field 100k fuel cell vehicles by 2010, but the new report seems pretty clear on the chances of that happening. According to the report, “a 2008 independent study estimated that the high-volume manufacturing cost of automotive fuel cell systems (using current technology and assuming 500,000 units per year) would be $73/kW, which equates to almost $6000 for an 80-kW system. This current technology would be more than twice as expensive as internal combustion engine systems. And, based on the highest demonstrated durability to date, fuel cell systems would have a lifespan of approximately 1900 hours, which equates to about 57,000 miles and is still substantially lower than today’s estimated vehicular lifespan of 150,000 miles.” Sound familiar?

But, don’t worry. That $1.2b went to good use, “improving understanding of size range and spatial distribution of nano-scale water channels in Nafion membranes; . . . Developing and demonstrating a novel cryo-compressed tank concept” for which “system cost remains an issue”; and countless other “breakthroughs” which somehow don’t make hydrogen any less of a pipedream than it was two decades ago. The best part? “While fuel cell technology development is currently on track to meet the Program’s 2015 technology-readiness targets, it is too early to determine whether industry can achieve the 2020 vehicle deployment goal of 2.5 million hydrogen-fueled vehicles identified in [Energy Policy Act] section 811(a). However, analyses conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory indicate that such a deployment scenario would not be achieved without substantial supportive policies and incentives.” Fantastic. But hey, the DOE wants your feedback on their hydrogen dreams. Check out their request for information (RFI) here.

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11 Comments on “Department Of Energy: Hydrogen Still The Future...”

  • avatar
    montgomery burns

    Well I hate to continue being one of the nattering nabobs but hydrogen is a long, long way out. It may never be viable.

    Having said that I would like to see continuing research in it to have as an option if someday there is some breakthrough in the production of hydrogen.

    But for now just give it up already.

  • avatar
    Casual Observer

    So to paraphrase: “We just spent one billion dollars to conclude that fuel cells are not a viable technology. We might be able to do something in a couple decades, but we won’t know for sure unless you give us $xx billion more.”

    You gotta love researchers. They can’t tell the government that they just wasted a billion dollars, or else they would be out of jobs – no more billions would come their way.

    They also cannot report something back to the government about those studies that the government doesn’t want to hear. If I pay someone to tell me the wonders of fuel cells or that there is man-made global warming, then dammit, that’s what I want your report to say.

  • avatar

    Hydrogen, the fuel that makes no sense to anyone:

    It’s ridiculously hard to store – hydrogen is a small molecule that means it leaks out of everything. Liquefying hydrogen requires a ton of energy.

    The most abundant element in the universe is always attached to something – breaking those chemical bonds requires enormous amounts of energy.

    Thermal decomposition of water requires lots of heat – only practical with heat from nuclear reactors.

    Electrical decomposition of water requires lots of electricity – nuclear is again the only way to go for this.

    Extracting H2 from Methane (natural gas) isn’t exactly green – and if we’re putting the carbon in the atmosphere anyway, why not just run the cars on Methane?

    When politicians talk about the hydrogen economy, they are really talking about the nuclear economy.


  • avatar

    zerofoo: I agree completely. Hydrogen does not make sense as a fuel. It costs too much energy to extract, it is too hard to store, and too hard to transport.

  • avatar

    It’s a gas!

  • avatar

    @zerofoo — Funny you should say that. The biggest proponent of the hydrogen economy that I personally know used to work in the nuclear power industry. In the sentence after espousing the virtues of hydrogen fuel he told me how the govt should be investing the govt stimulus money in nuclear power plants to generate the electricity that would produce this hydrogen fuel.

    Remember: Anything that anyone tells you is a work. Whether it comes from your buddy, TTAC or the DOE, there is always an agenda being pushed.

  • avatar

    Hydrogen will be ready just in time to power the first mass produced flying car.

    What I don’t get is, once you’ve got all this hydrogen lying around, why not just burn the hydrogen to power the car. If you’ve got all the electricity you require to make the hydrogen, then run the cars on electricity!

    Hey – here’s how you can run the cars on wood: you put logs in the trunk that are burned to boil water to make steam to run a generator to produce electricity to produce hydrogen that goes into a fuel cell that makes electricity that drives the car! Problem solved.

  • avatar

    The posters above sure have it right! I’ll add that hydrogen powered cars, just like many of the other currently hyped “solutions,” seem to have the problem that the sales/marketing department is leading the charge for purpose of PR and government handouts. This leads to a backlash.

    Fundamental research into hydrogen fuel cells (and a whole host of other technologies) at the university research level is probably a good idea, though. I’d rather throw billions at research institutions than billions at GM and Cerberus and trillions at rip-off financial institutions.

  • avatar

    Take a 30 mile radius from the DC Capital…How many houses are worth over $1M? Wonder why? They can’t wait for the $800B taxpayer theft..err..Stimulus.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Hydrogen, even liquid hydrogen, is so light that any given volume of it carries very little energy.

    One liter of liquid hydrogen contains 71 grams of hydrogen. One liter of gasoline contains 118 grams of hydrogen, and one liter of diesel, 130 grams.

    Of course liquid hydrogen costs lots of energy to make, is difficult to store (it will leak out of any container in a matter of days), and is 423 degrees F below zero, so be very careful when handling it.

    Compressed hydrogen is less dense than liquid, and kaboom.

  • avatar

    Seems as if the DOE wants to curtail their spending on the hydrogen economy.

    Even Ballard Power in Canada saw fit to exit the fuelcells-for-cars business some time ago. The announcement came as they spun off their test cell business. Confidence couldn’t have been high at the time as it needed the key researchers to form the management team of this new entity. Later on this team secured all the related equipment in a buyout package. At least that was my understanding.

    Though hydrogen may be the the first to go here, I can see when American Leyland eventually goes under that the DOE will have even more reason to terminate other related powertrain programs it has scattered among the various National Labs.

    It almost seems that research in North America is wholly in the public sector, with the costs socialised wherever possible and when applicable the profits privatised.

    It makes me feel that the government should form an engineering corp just like we have the police, teachers, mail delivery and other public services. That it is a given that you become a government worker as an entitlement when you leave college/university and only in rare cases do you move out into the employ of capitalised companies.

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