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Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies — A Focus on Hydrogen 1 Introduction Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles show great promise for alleviating two of the most difficult issues facing the nation: climate change and the insecurity of oil imports. Fuel cells convert the chemical energy of hydrogen directly to electricity, which drives the vehicle. The process is very efficient and clean, especially relative to internal combustion engines. The only emission is water, the result of combining hydrogen with oxygen from the atmosphere. No gasoline is used, and no carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas that causes climate change, is produced or emitted from the vehicle. That promise, however, will be realized only after some very substantial challenges are met: Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) currently are extremely expensive, several hundred thousand dollars each, in part because the few that are operating are hand built, with no benefits of mass production. However, the fuel cells themselves and on-board storage of hydrogen are very expensive. Considerable research and development (R&D) are necessary to bring these costs down to where HFCVs will be competitive with conventional vehicles. Hydrogen is not a natural resource but must be manufactured from a primary energy source (e.g., natural gas or coal) or from electrolysis of water, which requires electricity. More energy is required to produce hydrogen than can be recovered from the hydrogen. All current methods of producing commercial hydrogen also emit significant amounts of CO2 per unit of hydrogen produced, either from the feedstock fuel or from the fuels used to generate electricity. Although not now prohibitively expensive, hydrogen costs also must be reduced by R&D, especially if it is to be produced with little or no emission of carbon dioxide. There is currently no infrastructure for supplying hydrogen to HFCVs. The very few hydrogen filling stations in the country were built to service test vehicles. Thousands will have to be built if hydrogen is to become the dominant transportation fuel. In addition, facilities for producing the hydrogen and delivering it to the filling stations must be built. Even though projections show that hydrogen HFCVs could be the vehicle of choice in several decades, the transition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be challenging. Sufficient filling stations must be available to assure early purchasers of HFCVs that they will be able to operate their vehicles, but companies will be reluctant to build the stations until there is business for them. These issues, especially the potential for reductions in the use of oil and emissions of carbon dioxide, prompted the U.S. Congress to request this study in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In response, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) arranged for this study from the National Research Council (NRC). It focuses on the resources that will be needed to bring fuel cell and hydrogen technologies to readiness and then get them through the transition to the point that they will be self-supporting. The NRC established the Committee on Assessment of Resource Needs for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies, which was guided by the following statement of task: The National Academy of Sciences National Research Council will appoint a committee to carry out a study of fuel cell technologies that provides a budget roadmap (e.g., what investments in R&D, demonstrations, skilled people, infrastructure will be required) for the development of fuel cell technologies and the transition from petroleum to hydrogen in a significant percentage of the vehicles sold by 2020. The committee will: establish as a goal the maximum percentage practicable of vehicles that the committee determines can be fueled by hydrogen by 2020; determine the amount of funding required as a whole (public and private), and to the extent possible the Federal investments required, to meet the goal established under paragraph (1). Consideration will be given to investments
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Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies — A Focus on Hydrogen needed for R&D, demonstrations, skilled people, and infrastructure; determine what actions are required to meet the goal established under paragraph (1); examine the need for expanded and enhanced Federal research and development programs, changes in regulations, grant programs, partnerships between the Federal Government and industry, private sector investments, infrastructure investments by the Federal Government and industry, educational and public information initiatives, and Federal and State tax incentives to meet the goal established under paragraph (1); consider the role that the use of hydrogen in stationary electric power applications, as well as advanced vehicle technologies, will play in stimulating the transition to hydrogen-fueled hybrid electric vehicles. Also consider whether other technologies would be less expensive or could be more quickly implemented than fuel cell technologies to achieve significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and oil imports; take into account any reports relating to fuel cell technologies and hydrogen-fueled vehicles, including (a) the National Academies report issued in 2004 entitled Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs; and (b) the report prepared by the U.S. Fuel Cell Council in 2003 entitled Fuel Cells and Hydrogen: The Path Forward; consider the challenges, difficulties, and potential barriers to meeting the goal established under paragraph (1); and with respect to the budget roadmap (a) specify the amount of funding required on an annual basis from the Federal Government and industry to carry out the budget roadmap; and (b) specify the advantages and disadvantages to moving toward the transition to hydrogen in vehicles in accordance with the timeline established by the budget roadmap. Write a report documenting its study and assessment. The committee’s priorities from the statement of task were as follows: Establish as a goal the maximum practicable percentage of vehicles that can be fueled by hydrogen by 2020; Determine the funding, public and private, to reach that goal; Determine the government actions required to achieve the goal; Establish a budget roadmap to achieve the goal; Evaluate the synergy between the use of hydrogen in stationary electric power applications and in hydrogen-fueled vehicles; and Assess other technologies which could achieve significant CO2 and oil reductions by 2020. This report builds on an earlier NRC report prepared for DOE, The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs (NRC, 2004). That study examined how the hydrogen economy might work and the track the nation might follow, especially with regard to research and development (R&D), to get there. This report updates the review of the rapidly improving technology and focuses on the resources needed to have a significant number of HFCVs in operation by 2020. Increasing concern over both petroleum imports and climate change suggests that an earlier introduction of HFCVs, relative to the projections in the 2004 report, could be desirable. In assessing the potential of HFCVs to achieve significant reductions in oil imports and CO2 emissions, the committee also benefited from interactions with the NRC’s Committee on Review of the Research Program of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership, which evaluated progress in the R&D programs related to fuel cell vehicle technologies and hydrogen production technologies in the partnership between DOE, the three domestic automotive companies, and five energy companies (NRC, 2008). Many of the technical conclusions in this report stemmed from that cooperation. The present committee also conducted its own analysis on a variety of issues and heard from many experts in industry, academia, and research centers, as listed in Appendix B. In this report: Chapter 2 presents a framework for considering an accelerated transition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Chapter 3 then reviews the progress of the technologies that will be necessary to make the introduction of HFCVs feasible. This includes hydrogen production as well as the vehicles themselves. Chapter 4 examines two alternative approaches to reducing the use of petroleum and emissions of carbon dioxide from vehicles—advanced conventional vehicles and fuels derived from biomass (biofuels)—to compare their potential to HFCVs. The possible relationship between hydrogen for transportation and the electric power system is explored in Chapter 5. This includes an examination of electrolysis for hydrogen production during the transition, as well as central station plants producing hydrogen that could also be used for stationary electricity production. Chapter 6 presents several scenarios designed to analyze the transition and its impacts. Building on the technology assessment in Chapter 3, one scenario examines the rapid introduction of HFCVs. Two others look at the rapid improvement in conventional fuel economy and at the use of biofuels, as discussed in Chapter 4. Finally, another scenario projects the impact on fuel use and CO2 emissions if all paths are pursued simultaneously. Variants of these scenarios also were analyzed, as reported in Appendix C. The funding for research, development and demonstration (RD&D), as well as the investments in vehicle production and hydrogen infrastructure that will be required for a transition to HFCVs, are discussed in Chapter 7. The chapter culminates with the budget roadmap mandated in the statement of task above, plus a discussion of how costs might be shared between the private sector and government.
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Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies — A Focus on Hydrogen The federal government must supply more than just funding to stimulate a transition to fuel cell vehicles. A variety of other policy requirements and options are explored in Chapter 8. Finally, Chapter 9 assesses the broad advantages and disadvantages of accelerating this transition. REFERENCES NRC (National Research Council). 2004. The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. NRC. 2008. Review of the Research Program of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership: Second Report. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.