Auto Manifesto

February 26, 2008

Hydrogen Falling Out of Favor

Policy needs to be set now for a long time to come. Yet if you look at all the rhetoric and proposals on the Federal and state levels, we’ve got a hodgepodge of all sorts of special interests clamoring for their piece of the action. With all these contenders jostling for position, someone’s going to fall off the wagon. And while I wouldn’t count it out, hydrogen looks like it’s been teetering a bit lately.

A headline this week from Automotive News (subscription required): “Hydrogen slips as a solution for the greening of autos”

The article contains a chart from the GAO (Government Accountability Office) which shows the current fuel production cost of hydrogen from renewable liquids as $4.40 per kilowatt-hour versus the US Department of Energy’s goal of less than $3 per kWh by the year 2017.

Does anyone see a problem with this? If it’s going to cost $3/kWh to make how much is it going to sell for? More right? And hydrogen is going to be used to do what in fuel cells? Make electricity. And for every 1 unit of hydrogen you put into a fuel cell, the theoretical maximum output you’ll get is 1 unit of electricity, but the reality will be somewhat less.

So how does this make sense when electricity is already less than $3 per kWh, the infrastructure to charge vehicles is further along than hydrogen refueling stations, and battery development will surely increase range to at least as good as hydrogen can get? Plus how is the infrastructure for hydrogen refueling going to come about?

All I’m saying is the sooner we start focusing efforts on programs that have the best chance of success because they are fundamentally sound and leverage existing technology and resources, the sooner we will come to a viable solution.

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