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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs
committee applauds DOE for providing one office as the focus for the hydrogen-related programs conducted under different DOE organizations. The purpose of this office is to facilitate overall strategic program direction, coordinate individual hydrogen-related activities across various DOE organizations, promote outreach to the public and private sectors, and coordinate with stakeholder partners.3 An example of a coordination activity is the National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap (November 2002) .
The committee offers four recommendations based on its information gathering and deliberations thus far. Reflecting serious needs in DOE’s program identified in an initial assessment by the committee, these recommendations may be refined and expanded upon in the committee’s final report. They address a systems approach to hydrogen energy RD&D, exploratory research as the foundation for breakthroughs in technology, safety issues, and coordination of R&D strategy and programs.
In its program overview, DOE personnel presented various R&D targets for a variety of possible future hydrogen energy system components. From its collective experience, the committee deems it essential that the DOE treat hydrogen energy development as a system ranging from hydrogen creation and production to transportation, storage, and end use. It is important that all aspects of the various conceivable hydrogen system pathways be adequately modeled to understand the complex interactions between components, system costs, environmental impacts of individual components and the system as a whole, societal impacts (e.g., offsets of imported oil per year), and possible system trade-offs. Indeed, such an analysis function is an essential tool for DOE personnel to optimally prioritize areas for R&D as well as to understand the ramifications of future R&D successes and disappointments. A competent, independent systems analysis group not only will help DOE program managers make better program decisions in the future, but also will help:
Establish a high standard for assessments performed by program contractors,
Provide a greater degree of confidence in program integrity,
Enhance the private sector’s willingness to participate in the hydrogen program, and
Minimize the occurrence of unwarranted claims within DOE.
Indeed, in its recent review of the DOE Vision 21 Program , the NRC urged the establishment of such a systems analysis function for the coal-based energy program.
Recommendation 1: An independent systems engineering and analysis group should be established within the hydrogen program to identify the impacts of various technology pathways, to assess associated cost elements and drivers, to identify key cost and technological gaps, and to assist in the prioritization of R&D directions. The committee understands that DOE recognizes the importance of systems integration and suggests that its current analytical capabilities could be expanded into an in-house systems analysis group.
A hydrogen economy4 will not come about without significant improvements in technology. This in turn requires that DOE provide significant funding for fundamental, exploratory research supported by organizations and investigators that propose credible, promising, high-risk new concepts for technologies for hydrogen storage, production, transportation, and end-use. The cost reductions (e.g., fuel cell cost per kilowatt) and infrastructure necessary to bring about a hydrogen economy are indeed challenging. While progress will certainly result from further development and demonstrations of existing technologies, some hydrogen system components will require major scientific breakthroughs that development will not address. Such advances will require entirely new approaches and thinking, which can come about only through relatively fundamental, directed exploratory research aimed at identifying technologies that will achieve cost reduction and technology goals (e.g., weight percentage of stored hydrogen).
Demonstrations also have a place in a balanced research program because they can lead to cost reductions and accelerate the development of codes, standards, environmental permitting, and strategies for inspection and monitoring. But demonstrations can also distort budgets and divert effort toward technology with limited potential. Development of a careful plan for funding and evaluating demonstrations will serve the public interest.
Recommendation 2: Fundamental and exploratory research should receive additional budgetary emphasis, and the DOE should develop a careful plan for evaluating, funding, and validating emerging technologies for hydrogen production, transportation, storage, and end-use.
The nation’s current hydrogen production, transportation, and utilization system is very safely managed . The introduction of hydrogen into the commercial supply and con-
Chalk, S. Overview of DOE Hydrogen Technology Activities. Presentation to the committee on December 2, 2002.
The hydrogen economy has been envisioned as the large-scale use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, generated from any of a variety of fuels or feedstocks, to be used in the transportation, industrial, and building sectors, and requiring an infrastructure for its transmission and delivery.