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Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies — A Focus on Hydrogen Abstract In response to a congressional request in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, this National Research Council (NRC) study estimated the maximum practicable number of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) that could be deployed in the United States by 2020 and beyond, together with the investments, time, and government actions needed to carry out this transition. The study determined the consequent reductions in U.S. oil consumption and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the main greenhouse gas linked to global climate change—that could be expected. It then compared those reductions with the potential impact that the use of alternative vehicle technologies and biofuels might have on oil consumption and CO2 emissions. The NRC’s Committee on Assessment of Resource Needs for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies concluded that the maximum practical number of HFCVs that could be operating in 2020 would be approximately 2 million in a fleet of 280 million light-duty vehicles. The number of HFCVs could grow rapidly thereafter to about 25 million by 2030. Rather than a prediction of the future by the committee, this is a scenario based on the committee’s estimate of the maximum penetration rate, assuming that technical goals are met, that consumers readily accept HFCVs, and that policy instruments are in place to drive the introduction of hydrogen fuel and fuel cell vehicles through the market transition period. The use of HFCVs can achieve large and sustained reductions in U.S. oil consumption and CO2 emissions, but several decades will be needed to realize these potential long-term benefits. Considerable progress is still required toward improving fuel cell costs and durability, as well as on-board hydrogen storage. The substantial financial commitments and technical progress made in recent years by the automotive industry, private entrepreneurs, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) suggest that HFCVs and hydrogen production technologies could be ready for commercialization in the 2015-2020 time frame. Such vehicles are not likely to be cost-competitive until after 2020, but by 2050 HFCVs could account for more than 80 percent of new vehicles entering the fleet. An accelerated transition to HFCVs would require that automobile manufacturers ramp up production of fuel cell vehicles even while they cost much more than conventional vehicles, and that investments be made to build and operate hydrogen fueling stations even while the market for hydrogen is very limited. Substantial government actions and assistance would therefore be needed to support such a transition to HFCVs in the 2020 time frame, even with good technical progress on fuel cell and hydrogen production technologies. Substantial and sustained research and development (R&D) programs also are required to further reduce the costs of fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen after 2020. The committee estimated the government cost to support a transition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as being roughly $55 billion from 2008 to 2023 (when fuel cell vehicles would become competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles). This funding includes a substantial R&D program ($5 billion), support for the demonstration and deployment of the vehicles while they are more expensive than conventional vehicles ($40 billion), and support for the production of hydrogen ($10 billion). Private industry would be investing far more, about $145 billion for R&D, vehicle manufacturing, and hydrogen infrastructure over the same period. Current U.S. government expenditures, largely for R&D, are about $300 million per year, primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy. If 2 million HFCVs are to be on the road by 2020, R&D funding may have to be increased by as much as 20 percent over the next several years. Annual government expenditures will have to be much higher to support the commercial introduction of HFCVs, about $3 billion in 2015 and increasing to $8 billion in 2023. Potential synergies between the transportation sector and the electric power sector may help reduce the cost of hydrogen. In the near term, electrolysis of water can provide hydrogen in areas where natural gas or other sources are
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Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies — A Focus on Hydrogen unavailable. In the longer term (after 2025), co-generation of low-carbon hydrogen and electricity in gasification-based energy plants may be an option. The main advantage of a transition to HFCVs is the potential for reducing the use of oil and emissions of CO2. Although hydrogen could not replace much gasoline before 2025, the 25 years after that would see a dramatic decline in the use of gasoline in the light-duty vehicle fleet to about one-third of current projections, if the assumptions of the maximum practical case are met. Emissions of CO2 will decline almost as much if hydrogen is produced with carbon capture and sequestration or from nonfossil sources. The committee also found that alternatives such as improved fuel economy for conventional vehicles, increased penetration of hybrid vehicles, and biomass-derived fuels could deliver significantly greater reductions in U.S. oil use and CO2 emissions than could use of HFCVs over the next two decades, but that the longer-term benefits of such approaches were likely to grow at a smaller rate thereafter, even with continued technological improvements, whereas hydrogen offers greater longer-term potential. Thus, as estimated by the committee, the greatest benefits will come from a portfolio of R&D technologies that would allow the United States to achieve deep reductions in oil use, nearly 100 percent by 2050 for the light-duty vehicle fleet. Achieving this goal, however, will require significant new energy security and environmental policy actions in addition to technological developments. Although broad policies aimed at reducing oil use and CO2 emissions will be useful, they are unlikely to be adequate to facilitate the rapid introduction of HFCVs. A competitive and self-sustaining HFCV fleet is possible in the long term but will require hydrogen-specific policies in the nearer term. These policies must be substantial and durable in order to assure industry that the necessary long-term investments can be made safely.