This chapter addresses several issues that have implications for Department of Energy (DOE) hydrogen program activities. These issues are not specific to any one hydrogen production or end-use technology, but instead concern the integration of the DOE’s various hydrogen program elements with societal goals and with the capabilities of various sectors—industrial and academic—that are stakeholders in a transition to a hydrogen economy.
The director of the DOE Office of Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Infrastructure Technologies—charged with coordinating hydrogen programs across the DOE—provided the committee with an organization chart that shows how the department set up various coordinating committees and lines of authority to help manage the overall DOE hydrogen program. The challenge of managing across office boundaries is very significant, as cooperation between various offices in the DOE has often been less than harmonious, owing to conflicts over budgets and technology.
The situation is further complicated because a number of technologies are being pursued within the DOE for the future production of electricity as well as for their possible use in hydrogen generation. Examples include coal gasification, which can be used for the production of electricity, synthesis gas, synthetic liquid fuels, and/or hydrogen. The various parts of the Office of Fossil Energy’s (FE’s) coal gasification program are funded at a very significant level, but only a relatively small portion of the total is included in the DOE hydrogen program budget. Similarly, wind systems and photovoltaics are being developed for electric power production, but in principle both also have potential application for the production of hydrogen via electrolysis. Accordingly, challenges involving coordination and cooperation are significant and require careful monitoring by DOE senior management to ensure that the needed cooperation and balance are maintained.
Throughout this report the committee has emphasized the challenges and complexity of developing a viable hydrogen energy system. As the lead government agency in this investigation, the DOE faces a larger management problem than it ever faced in the development of other domestic energy technologies. Recognizing that the tools for managing such a complex effort have been developed and utilized in both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Defense (DOD), the DOE has initiated a new-to-the-department systems integration activity to assist in the management of the remarkable complexities associated with hydrogen system development. In a draft charter on systems integration, the DOE defines this “Systems Integration” function as “a disciplined approach applied to the design, development, and commissioning of complex systems that ensures that requirements are identified, validated, and met while minimizing the impact on cost and schedule of unanticipated events and interactions.”1 In a manner similar to the assignment of responsibilities in complex system development at NASA and DOD, the DOE states that its systems integrator will carry out the following:
Define and validate program requirements.
Identify and manage interfaces.
Identify risks and propose management options for mitigation.
Support informed decision-making.
Verify that products meet systems requirements.2
The DOE differentiates the functions of systems integration from those of systems analysis. While mutually supportive, they are separate functions.
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs 9 Crosscutting Issues This chapter addresses several issues that have implications for Department of Energy (DOE) hydrogen program activities. These issues are not specific to any one hydrogen production or end-use technology, but instead concern the integration of the DOE’s various hydrogen program elements with societal goals and with the capabilities of various sectors—industrial and academic—that are stakeholders in a transition to a hydrogen economy. PROGRAM MANAGEMENT AND SYSTEMS ANALYSIS Program Management The director of the DOE Office of Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Infrastructure Technologies—charged with coordinating hydrogen programs across the DOE—provided the committee with an organization chart that shows how the department set up various coordinating committees and lines of authority to help manage the overall DOE hydrogen program. The challenge of managing across office boundaries is very significant, as cooperation between various offices in the DOE has often been less than harmonious, owing to conflicts over budgets and technology. The situation is further complicated because a number of technologies are being pursued within the DOE for the future production of electricity as well as for their possible use in hydrogen generation. Examples include coal gasification, which can be used for the production of electricity, synthesis gas, synthetic liquid fuels, and/or hydrogen. The various parts of the Office of Fossil Energy’s (FE’s) coal gasification program are funded at a very significant level, but only a relatively small portion of the total is included in the DOE hydrogen program budget. Similarly, wind systems and photovoltaics are being developed for electric power production, but in principle both also have potential application for the production of hydrogen via electrolysis. Accordingly, challenges involving coordination and cooperation are significant and require careful monitoring by DOE senior management to ensure that the needed cooperation and balance are maintained. Throughout this report the committee has emphasized the challenges and complexity of developing a viable hydrogen energy system. As the lead government agency in this investigation, the DOE faces a larger management problem than it ever faced in the development of other domestic energy technologies. Recognizing that the tools for managing such a complex effort have been developed and utilized in both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Defense (DOD), the DOE has initiated a new-to-the-department systems integration activity to assist in the management of the remarkable complexities associated with hydrogen system development. In a draft charter on systems integration, the DOE defines this “Systems Integration” function as “a disciplined approach applied to the design, development, and commissioning of complex systems that ensures that requirements are identified, validated, and met while minimizing the impact on cost and schedule of unanticipated events and interactions.”1 In a manner similar to the assignment of responsibilities in complex system development at NASA and DOD, the DOE states that its systems integrator will carry out the following: Define and validate program requirements. Identify and manage interfaces. Identify risks and propose management options for mitigation. Support informed decision-making. Verify that products meet systems requirements.2 The DOE differentiates the functions of systems integration from those of systems analysis. While mutually supportive, they are separate functions. 1 “DOE Hydrogen Program Systems Integrations Charter (draft),” presentation to committee (partial), June 15, 2003. 2 “DOE Hydrogen Program Systems Integrations Charter (draft),” presentation to committee (partial), June 15, 2003.
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs Additionally, it is important for the DOE to separate the programs that it includes under systems integration management from its exploratory research programs. Exploratory research requires a dramatically different management approach. As noted in the committee’s interim report (see its Letter Report, reprinted in Appendix B) and throughout this report, exploratory research is absolutely essential if the DOE is to identify and develop the dramatically new technologies necessary to the eventual viability of a hydrogen economy. Indeed, without breakthroughs that can only come from exploratory research, the likelihood of a hydrogen economy’s coming into being would be greatly diminished. Systems Analysis On April 4, 2003, the committee provided the DOE with its interim report, which includes four management-related recommendations focused on the areas of systems analysis, exploratory research, safety, and organization (see Appendix B). The committee is pleased to acknowledge that the director of the DOE Office of Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and Infrastructure Technologies and others in the DOE immediately began action to respond to those recommendations. In this chapter, the committee presents some additional perspectives related to systems analysis and management. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has assigned responsibility for the establishment of an independent hydrogen systems analysis program to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The director of the DOE Office of Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and Infrastructure Technologies informed the committee that there will be a “firewall” between normal NREL activities and the systems analysis function in order to minimize the possibility of undue influence favoring renewable technology interests. The director of the DOE Office of Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and Infrastructure Technologies and the director of NREL agreed to seek an experienced, objective, systems analysis professional from outside NREL, and a national search was initiated. In parallel, the Office of Fossil Energy has established a new, independent systems analysis function at the National Energy Technology Laboratory. The primary focus of this effort will be on hydrogen production from coal, and the intent here is also to perform comparative analyses with other options for hydrogen production, which is appropriate in order to understand the capabilities and economics of alternative technologies. With the participation of staff from the National Research Council, members of the committee held separate, informal meetings with personnel from FE and EERE so that some of the committee members with related expertise could share their individual thoughts on the important elements of effective systems analysis. No committee positions were provided beyond those presented in the committee’s interim report. Among the items discussed, which the committee endorses, are the following: The most important ingredient in systems analysis is the people who do the work. There are relatively few with the training, talent, and background to be able to properly identify, evaluate, trade off, and deal with the myriad of technical and economic parameters characteristic of complex energy technologies. A core of specially selected people is therefore essential. A viable systems analysis function must be managed independently of the various DOE line research and development (R&D) programs in order to minimize both the existence and even the appearance of technology bias. There are many envelopes for systems analysis. At one end of the spectrum are unit operations, such as the analysis of all elements of a production concept. At the opposite end is a fully integrated national system, including fuel acquisition for a production plant, production operations, transportation and storage of product, distribution, end use, and other related considerations. Detailed analysis within envelopes and across the national energy system must all be part of an effective systems analysis program, particularly in the case of a potentially vast, future energy system based on hydrogen. A viable systems analysis program for a wide-ranging effort such as the hydrogen program is a very significant activity, requiring substantial funding—on the order of $10 million per year on a continuing basis. Without such a comprehensive effort, research priorities may be less well justified, and the full meaning of research results will be less well understood. A few of the topics to be studied in systems analysis are the following: (1) systems and subsystems currently under development; (2) the character of competitive approaches to providing energy services—electricity, for example—and how such systems are likely to change over time; (3) an examination of different future energy scenarios and forcing functions that may impact the nation; and (4) the development of an understanding of how proposed technologies might fit into the national system. The benefits that can accrue from a properly managed systems analysis program include (1) an independent, consistent, unbiased description of technologies as they are and might be; (2) a fact-based prescription to guide the selection and evaluation of research projects; and (3) a sound basis for estimating the potential benefits of research programs. A number of potential pitfalls must be avoided in doing effective systems analysis. Poor-quality or biased results have the potential to severely damage institutional credibility, in addition to providing faulty direction to programs. Perhaps most significant is the need to guard against outside influences, because an independent systems analysis function will almost certainly be inundated by people wanting to protect their own preferences or projects.
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs For various reasons, the establishment of a viable hydrogen systems analysis program will not be an easy task. For one thing, the DOE has had relatively little experience with effective systems analysis in the past. Additionally, such analysis programs are expensive. Also, the results of sound systems analysis can upset vested interests. Finding 9-1. The pathway to achieving a hydrogen economy will be neither simple nor straightforward. Indeed, significant risks lie between the present vision for a hydrogen economy and the actual achievement of that vision. The chief technical challenges include these: safe, durable, and economic hydrogen storage; cost-effective, durable fuel cell technology; economic and publicly acceptable carbon capture and sequestration; breakthroughs in hydrogen distribution systems; and cost-effective, energy-efficient renewable and distributed hydrogen generation systems. These challenges can only be addressed by research and development, and there is no guarantee that such efforts will be successful. However, even more-challenging issues will arise from a larger set of economic and social concerns, especially those of enabling investment in hydrogen distribution and logistic systems and of public acceptance, which will likely be heavily influenced by hydrogen safety concerns. Thus, it is appropriate for the Department of Energy to advance hydrogen and fuel cell options at this time. In addition, given the important role of other, nonhydrogen energy technologies and strategies, including conservation, during the coming decades and given the possibility that some, such as battery storage, might more rapidly advance many of the goals set out for the hydrogen economy, the DOE’s hydrogen research programs must be measured and managed against progress in these nonhydrogen fields so that an appropriate balancing of overall energy policy can be achieved. Recommendation 9-1. The Department of Energy should continue to develop its hydrogen initiative as a potential long-term contributor to improving U.S. energy security and environmental protection. The program plan should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect progress, potential synergisms within the program, and interactions with other energy programs and partnerships (e.g., the California Fuel Cell Partnership). In order to achieve this objective, the committee recommends that the DOE develop and employ a systems analysis approach to understanding full costs, defining options, evaluating research results, and helping balance its hydrogen program for the short, medium, and long term. Such an approach should be implemented for all U.S. energy options, not only for hydrogen. As part of its systems analysis, the DOE should map out and evaluate a transition plan consistent with developing the infrastructure and hydrogen resources necessary to support the committee’s hydrogen vehicle penetration scenario or another similar demand scenario. The DOE should estimate what levels of investment over time are required—and in which program and project areas—in order to achieve a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from passenger vehicles by midcentury. Finding 9-2. The effective management of the Department of Energy hydrogen program will be far more challenging than any activity previously undertaken on the civilian energy side of the DOE. That being the case, the use of management tools employed elsewhere in the government has the potential for a very high payoff in terms of the effective use of taxpayer funds and the development of the most efficient pathways to hydrogen systems success. In that regard, the adoption of systems integration techniques used elsewhere in the government has the potential for significant value. However, the DOE’s hydrogen exploratory research program must be managed in a very different manner—independent of the projects covered by systems integration management. Recommendation 9-2. The Department of Energy should identify potentially useful management tools and capabilities developed elsewhere in the government for managing complex programs and should evaluate their potential for use in the hydrogen program. While such techniques are known to exist, it may well be that they will need to be modified to account for the overriding importance of economics in energy system development. Finding 9-3. An independent, well-funded, professionally staffed and managed systems analysis function, separated by a “firewall” from technology development functions, is essential to the success of the Department of Energy’s hydrogen program. Recommendation 9-3. An independent systems analysis group should be established by the Department of Energy to identify the impacts of various hydrogen technology pathways, to assess associated cost elements and drivers, to identify key cost and technological gaps, to evaluate the significance of actual research results, and to assist in the prioritization of research and development directions. HYDROGEN SAFETY Safety-Related Issues High market penetration of devices that use hydrogen to deliver energy services can expose the general public to unaccustomed hazards. These hazards pose three challenges that will become manifest from the earliest days of any transition to a hydrogen economy: The requirement to protect human life and property; The need to develop codes and standards for hydrogen devices, production technologies, and logistic systems that
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs allow the economic siting of facilities and that enable commercial innovation; and The need to develop hydrogen safety competence among local emergency-response and zoning officials. Timely attention to these safety-related issues cannot, by itself, draw hydrogen into the marketplace. Left unaddressed, however, these issues will raise formidable barriers to the wide-scale use of hydrogen in the consumer economy. As noted in previous chapters, hydrogen is widely used in industry at the present time. About 41 million short tons of hydrogen are produced each year in industrial facilities around the world (ORNL, 2003). From this industrial experience, the committee concludes that the safety record of professionally managed hydrogen compares favorably with that of similar industrial processes, and that hydrogen can be manufactured and used by trained professionals under controlled conditions with acceptable safety. Thus, safety issues are most likely to arise when hydrogen is used by consumers with neither special training nor the discipline of industrial procedures. In particular, three areas of consumer use merit special attention: (1) the fueling process for consumer-owned, hydrogen-powered vehicles; (2) the garage storage of hydrogen-powered vehicles, either in homes or in public facilities; and (3) the use of hydrogen-powered vehicles in tunnels and similar structures. Safety Implications of the Properties of Hydrogen The risk to the public during consumer end use of hydrogen derives from the possibility of accidental fire and explosion, a direct consequence of the physical and chemical properties of hydrogen. These properties help to define the kinds of safety issues that must be addressed, the fundamental design goals for hydrogen systems, and the operational limitations of these systems. Table 9-1 summarizes the properties of hydrogen in contrast with those of other commonly used fuels. With regard to flammability, hydrogen has an unusually wide range of flammable concentrations in air—between a lower limit of 4 percent and an upper limit of 75 percent by volume. As a result, the release of any volume of hydrogen presents a larger probability of ignition than would be the case for a similar volume of other gaseous fuels commonly in use. On the other hand, hydrogen’s high buoyancy and high diffusion rate in air lead any flammable hydrogen-air mixture to disperse more rapidly than other gases would. Thus, its ignition potential tends to decrease faster than that of other gases. Designs that minimize leaks and allow for the dispersal of the gas that does escape are more important for hydrogen than for other fuels. With regard to ignitability, a flammable hydrogen-air mixture can be ignited either by a spark or by heating the mixture to its autoignition temperature. The minimum spark energy required for the ignition of hydrogen in air is low TABLE 9-1 Selected Properties of Hydrogen and Other Fuel Gases Property Hydrogen Natural Gas Propane Gasoline Vapor Density relative to air 0.07 0.55 1.52 4.0 Molecular weight 2 16 44 107 Density (kg/m3) 0.084 0.651 1.87 4.4 Diffusion coefficient (cm2/s) 0.61 0.16 0.12 0.05 Explosive energy (MJ/m3) 9 32 93 407 Flammability range (% by volume) 4 to 75 5 to 15 2 to 10 1 to 8 Detonation range (% by volume) 18 to 59 6 to 14 3 to 7 1 to 3 Minimum ignition energy (mJ) 0.02 0.29 0.26 0.24 Flame speed (cm/s) 346 43 47 42 SOURCE: Nyborg et al. (2003). enough that a static electricity spark produced by the human body (in dry conditions and within the ideal fuel/air range) would be sufficient to ignite hydrogen. Among other considerations, this means that proper grounding of the vehicle and its operator will be essential for safe fueling. The risk is the presence of static electricity coincident with possible hydrogen from a leak at the fueling connection to the vehicle. By contrast, gasoline vapors are always present during gasoline fueling. With regard to explosion, all gaseous fuels can support detonation. However, hydrogen’s higher flame speed and wider flammable concentration range make detonation more likely, all else being equal. The geometry of the confining space strongly influences the likelihood of detonation and presents special concerns in places such as enclosed, poorly ventilated garages or tunnels. The extremely low density of hydrogen, 0.084 kilogram per cubic meter, challenges the design of any transfer operation, especially vehicle refueling. To accomplish the transfer of gaseous hydrogen in a timely manner, current technologies require high pressure—perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 pounds per square inch. This pressure also creates a heat load that limits refueling rates and must be dispersed. Finally, hydrogen is difficult for humans to detect by sense of sight or smell. Unlike natural gas, familiar to consumers, hydrogen is unodorized. It burns with a pale blue, nearly invisible flame and becomes easily visible only as it ignites dust or other materials in the air. The gas itself is odorless, and the small size of the hydrogen molecules does not accommodate well the presence of chemical odorants. Further, many common odorants would poison the catalyst in hydrogen fuel cells.
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs These special characteristics do not by themselves preclude a transition of hydrogen into the consumer economy. But they do imply that the safety practices and skills that have evolved through many years’ handling of other fuels cannot be applied uncritically. Developing the unique safety codes, standards, and practices to support any emerging hydrogen economy will thus become an essential public task. The DOE is well aware of the safety issues surrounding hydrogen and has initiated relevant programs. The committee recognizes and supports the emphasis on participatory development of codes and standards found in the “Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Infrastructure Technologies Program: Multi-Year Research, Development and Demonstration Plan” (DOE, 2003b). Finding 9-4. Safety will be a major issue from the standpoint of commercialization of hydrogen-powered vehicles. Much evidence suggests that hydrogen can be manufactured and used in professionally managed systems with acceptable safety, but experts differ markedly in their views of the safety of hydrogen in a consumer-centered transportation system. A particularly salient and underexplored issue is leakage in enclosed structures, such as home and commercial garages. Hydrogen safety, from both a technological and a societal perspective, will be one of the major hurdles that must be overcome to achieve the hydrogen economy. Greater concerns, however, arise from its widespread use in the consumer economy. Safety issues become manifest in two forms: (1) concern with loss of human life and property, and (2) zoning codes that restrict the location of hydrogen facilities and vehicles. The current program is focusing on codes and standards and does not yet include a strong component of exploratory research and development. Recommendation 9-4. The committee believes that the Department of Energy’s program on safety is well planned and should be a priority. However, the committee emphasizes the following: Safety policy goals. Safety policy goals should be proposed and discussed by the Department of Energy with stakeholder groups early in the hydrogen technology development process. The safety issue should not be framed as an absolute standard but rather in comparison with the chief consumer alternatives—gasoline for vehicular use or natural gas for home use. The standard for consumer acceptability should be a level of safety equal to or greater than that of these alternative fuels. Distributed production. The DOE should continue its work with standards development organizations to ensure that timely codes and standards are available to enable a transition strategy that emphasizes the distributed production of hydrogen. Inclusion of safety principles. In weighing the merits of alternative hydrogen systems, the independent systems analysis group that the DOE is establishing in response to an earlier committee recommendation should specifically include safety among the essential components. In consultation with independent safety experts, the DOE should develop systems preferences to encourage inherent risk avoidance rather than relying solely on the layering of multiple protections. Local capability building. The training of local fire and rescue officials in the special procedures required for dealing with any emergencies involving hydrogen should proceed in step with the development and deployment of the technology. Model safety training programs should be prepared on the national level but in consultation with local officials. Physical testing. The DOE understanding of hydrogen safety should be reinforced by a rigorous testing program that is informed in part by reasoned but vigorous skeptics of hydrogen safety. The goal of the physical testing program should be to identify, quantify, and resolve safety issues in advance of the commercial use of the technology rather than to convince the public or local officials that hydrogen is safe. Leak detection. Low-cost, reliable sensors should be emphasized. Non-instrument detection methods, such as odorants, available to most consumers should also be explored. Public education. The DOE’s public education program should continue to focus on hydrogen safety, particularly the safe use of hydrogen in distributed production and in consumer environments. EXPLORATORY RESEARCH Areas Needing Increased Emphasis In its April 2003 interim report to the DOE, the committee recommended that fundamental and exploratory research should receive additional budgetary emphasis (see Appendix B). In May 2003, a hydrogen workshop was sponsored jointly by the Office of Science (SC) and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and a workshop report was published (DOE, 2003e). However, in none of the research and development documents reviewed by the committee and in no discussions regarding the FY 2005 budget was there any indication that the SC will be establishing a meaningful program of basic and exploratory research related to hydrogen. In order to execute the hydrogen program, there need to be far more basic and exploratory research centers than there are now involved in the DOE program. The hydrogen initiative needs “a thousand points of innovation” in order to reach its full potential. The committee believes that the recently expanded hydrogen storage program has many characteristics of a strong program with the right balance of basic research.
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs Finding 9-5. The committee is impressed by the breadth and thoroughness of the Department of Energy’s hydrogen research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) plans. However, the committee has a number of related concerns. First, the transition to a hydrogen economy involves challenges that cannot be overcome by research and development and demonstrations alone. Unresolved issues of policy development, infrastructure development, and safety will slow the penetration of hydrogen into the market even if the technical hurdles of production cost and energy efficiency are overcome. Significant industry investments in advance of market forces will not be made unless government creates a business environment that reflects societal priorities with respect to greenhouse gas emissions and oil imports. Second, the committee believes that a hydrogen economy will not result from a straightforward replacement of the present fossil-fuel-based economy. There are great uncertainties surrounding a transition period, because many innovations and technological breakthroughs will be required to address the cost, and energy-efficiency, distribution, and nontechnical issues. The hydrogen fuel for the very early transitional period, before distributed generation takes hold, would probably be supplied in the form of pressurized or liquefied molecular hydrogen, trucked from existing, centralized production facilities. But, as volume grows, such an approach may be judged too expensive and/or too hazardous. It seems likely that, in the next 10 to 30 years, hydrogen produced in distributed rather than centralized facilities will dominate. Distributed production of hydrogen seems most likely to be done with small-scale natural gas reformers or by electrolysis of water; however, new concepts in distributed production could be developed over this time period. Great uncertainties surround a number of fundamentally new innovations and technological breakthroughs that will have to happen in order to address costs, energy efficiency, distribution, and nontechnical issues. In its April 4, 2003, interim report to the Department of Energy, the committee recommended that exploratory research receive additional budgetary emphasis (see Appendix B). Recommendation 9-5. There should be a shift in the hydrogen program away from some development areas and toward exploratory work—as has been done in the area of hydrogen storage. A hydrogen economy will require a number of technological and conceptual breakthroughs. The Department of Energy program calls for increased funding in some important exploratory research areas such as hydrogen storage and photoelectrochemical hydrogen production. However, the committee believes that much more exploratory research is needed. Other areas likely to benefit from an increased emphasis on exploratory research include delivery systems, pipeline materials, electrolysis, and materials science for many applications. The execution of such changes in emphasis would be facilitated by the establishment of DOE-sponsored academic energy research centers. These centers should focus on interdisciplinary areas of new science and engineering—such as materials research into nanostructures, and modeling for materials design—in which there are opportunities for breakthrough solutions to energy issues. Industry Participation The potential transition in the United States to the widespread replacement of gasoline by hydrogen for light-duty vehicles is essentially an alternative-fuel transition. As discussed in Chapter 3, “The Demand Side: Hydrogen End-Use Technologies,” experience in the past with transitions to alternative fuels, such as ethanol, methanol, or compressed natural gas, has not resulted in the significant penetration of these alternative fuels into the light-duty-vehicle market. An essential consideration by the federal government for the transition to alternative fuels is to determine how to effectively involve the parts of the private sector that have experience in technology development, infrastructure, markets, financing, and other aspects required for market success. For more than a decade there has been a significant level of participation with the automotive companies in the R&D directed toward advanced vehicles. For example, the three major U.S. automotive companies, Chrysler (now DaimlerChrysler), Ford, and General Motors, formed USCAR (United States Council for Automotive Research) and joined with the federal government in the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) program from 1993 to 2001. One of the goals of the PNGV program was to develop a midsize vehicle with up to three times the fuel economy of a comparable 1993 midsize vehicle. To achieve this goal, the focus was on the development of hybrid electric vehicles with diesel engines that required very-low-sulfur fuel in order to meet emissions requirements. Even though the fuel required was not completely new, such as for hydrogen or compressed natural gas, it was critical for the PNGV to involve the transportation fuels industry. In fact, the National Research Council’s Standing Committee to Review the Research Program of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles recommended that the PNGV propose ways to involve the transportation fuels industry in a partnership with government to help achieve the PNGV goals (NRC, 1998). The PNGV program, however, never developed an extensive partnership with the fuels industry equal in scope to what was done in the automotive sector. The partnership between the federal government and USCAR continues, with the FreedomCAR program, an important part of which is focused on developing vehicle component technologies for future fuel cell vehicles. The transition to a completely different fuel, such as hydrogen, is obviously a much more significant change to the fuel system than what was required by the PNGV effort. The transition to a possible hydrogen future will require private sector investment to produce and distribute the hydrogen and
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs to address, together with the government, the “chicken and egg” infrastructure problems that are outlined in the previous chapters of this report. But the “fuels” industry in this case may not only be the conventional petroleum and natural gas companies that would see an opportunity to supply hydrogen; also involved would be companies that produce electrolyzers, as well as the electric power industry that would supply electricity if hydrogen were produced by electrolysis. Since the committee believes that in the transition to a possible hydrogen economy the distributed production route would be the most likely strategy, the electric power sector may have a critical role, because electric power producers would be supplying the distributed generators. An important partnership that is also a model of what will be needed to introduce hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP). This partnership, headquartered in West Sacramento, was organized under the leadership of the California Air Resources Board in 1999. Its membership initially included oil and auto companies, but has expanded to include other energy suppliers, transit agencies, and other government agencies (including the DOE). In 2003, the partnership was renewed for another 4 years. The goal of the California Fuel Cell Partnership is to promote further progress toward fuel cell vehicle commercialization. It is working with its members to accomplish the following goals over the 2004–2007 period (CaFCP, 2004): Conduct Fleet Demonstrations. The CaFCP will facilitate members’ placement of up to 300 fuel cell cars and buses in independent, fleet demonstration projects within the state during this phase. CaFCP members plan to focus these vehicles primarily in two main areas—the greater Los Angeles region, and the Sacramento-San Francisco area. Conduct Fuel Demonstrations. The CaFCP members plan to construct fuel stations to support the independent demonstration projects. By concentrating vehicles and supporting refueling stations in defined regions the members will be able to focus resources more effectively in these early deployments. Fuel station interoperability—“common fit” fueling protocols—will allow all vehicles to utilize a growing network of fuel stations. Facilitate the Path to Commercialization. The CaFCP and its members plan to work together to help prepare local communities for fuel cell vehicles and fueling by training local officials, facilitating permit processes and sharing lessons learned. The CaFCP and its members also plan to promote the development of practical codes and standards for FCVs and fueling stations, and help to obtain financial and other support where needed. Enhance Public Awareness, Education and Support. The CaFCP plans to continue working together to raise public awareness through general outreach to public and media, consistent with pace of technology development. Increased focus will be placed on coordination with stakeholders and other fuel cell vehicle programs worldwide, sharing resource documents and lessons learned to further progress toward commercialization. Recommendation 9-6. The committee commends the Department of Energy for significantly increasing its efforts to bring the energy industry into the hydrogen program. Particularly noteworthy are FreedomCar and the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative and the broad input solicited for the 2002 National Energy Hydrogen Roadmap and the 2003 Hydrogen Posture Plan: An Integrated Research, Development, and Demonstration Plan. The committee encourages the DOE to continue to seek broad input from the energy industry—which includes not only broad, multinational energy companies, but utilities and small companies. In particular, the committee believes that research and development partnerships that would enhance the energy industry and the objectives of the hydrogen program should be encouraged at the level of pre-competitive technology. INTERNATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS Achieving some of the benefits of a hydrogen economy for the United States can also be facilitated if the DOE considers the role that hydrogen production and end-use technologies may play not only in the United States but also in other countries. For example, if future reductions of carbon dioxide become necessary to achieve, facilitating the development of low-carbon-emitting hydrogen production and end-use technologies that can be used around the world—especially in those developing countries where projected emissions of carbon dioxide are growing very rapidly—can help accelerate efforts to meet a goal of reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide. The successful development and use of hydrogen-related technologies in the transportation sectors of other countries can also substitute for oil, helping to ease any future supply-and-demand imbalances that may develop, and can help exert downward pressure on oil prices, which would benefit the U.S. economy. And U.S. companies, if successful in developing hydrogen technologies, can market those technologies not only in U.S. markets but in those of other countries, in both the developed and the developing world. Such activities would benefit U.S. companies and the economy. In addition, in other countries there are a number of efforts under way in the development of hydrogen-related technologies—efforts that may be important for the DOE to work with. Thus, it is important for a number of reasons for the DOE to adopt an international perspective as it sorts through its R&D priorities. The DOE is already beginning to take some steps toward an international perspective on hydrogen technology development. On June 16, 2003, DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham delivered a keynote address to the European Union Conference on Hydrogen in which he noted that working together with international partners can leverage scarce resources and advance the schedule for research, development, and demonstration. He also stressed the value of international partnerships in achieving progress in the advance of scientific knowledge and technology applications in the energy area.
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs Secretary Abraham, joined by ministers representing 14 nations and the European Commission, signed an agreement on November 20, 2003, to formally establish the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy.3 STUDY OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS An important public goal that has been expressed for an envisioned hydrogen energy system is that it could improve environmental quality. The committee in its report has limited its formal, quantitative analysis to one aspect of environmental quality—emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Other effects of switching to hydrogen fuels and fuel cell vehicles are discussed in various chapters. The committee believes that it will be important to consider environmental impacts in addition to those formally analyzed or discussed in this report if the goal of environmental quality is to be successfully achieved. Following is a brief discussion of some known environmental impacts associated with today’s energy sector that could be expected to be associated with a hydrogen economy. While not meant to be exhaustive, this discussion seeks to establish the scope of a proper analysis of a future hydrogen energy system. An analysis of environmental impacts should, in addition, consider the cumulative or delayed consequences of individual environmental threats, the difficulty in reversing them, and their potential to interact with one another (NRC, 1999a). Carbon Dioxide Emissions The committee examined the effect of the substitution of hydrogen fuel for petroleum in the transportation sector and its possible effects in reducing annual carbon emissions. These results are presented in Figures 6-7 through 6-10 in Chapter 6 and are discussed there in detail. This analysis showed that reductions in annual carbon emissions could be achieved4 but that they would vary greatly depending, for example, on whether hydrogen fuel was generated from fossil fuel resources, whether carbon capture and storage were employed, or—in the case of distributed generation—whether electrolysis was used and powered by renewable energy sources, among other factors and choices. Hydrogen Fuel Cycle Production of hydrogen necessitates utilization of primary resources either as feedstock (e.g., natural gas for reforming, or coal or biomass for gasification) or as an energy source for electricity (e.g., coal or natural gas, or uranium leading to one of a few possible nuclear-related processes). From extraction and reclamation to end use—the entire fuel cycle—the use of these resources can have direct and indirect impacts on environmental quality. The quantity of a few of these resources that would be required to meet the needs of a hydrogen energy system was estimated by the committee in Chapter 6. For natural gas, coal, and land area for growing biomass, respectively, Figures 6-11, 6-14, and 6-15 present the committee’s estimates of the use of these resources to the year 2050, assuming in each case that all hydrogen demand is met by one and only one type of resource (e.g., biomass). Extraction of the primary resources such as coal, natural gas, or uranium that could be used for the production of hydrogen has created associated environmental impacts. The mining of uranium and coal can affect landscape, water quality, vegetation, and aquatic biota, often extending beyond the immediate area of the mine site (NRC, 1999b). The extraction of natural gas from subsurface deposits can degrade surface habitats and subsurface water resources (NRC, 2003a). Technologies for the extraction of oil and natural gas resources continue to evolve, however, and associated impacts such as the environmental footprint left by exploration and production have declined, according to some analyses (DOE, 1999). Production of hydrogen can result in the release of various criteria pollutants5 or their precursors. The types of emissions and the amounts depend on the primary feedstock and the technology used to convert the feedstock into hydrogen. Certain production technologies, such as nuclear energy methods and wind energy tied to electrolysis, will be inherently more favorable with respect to this issue. To take one example: hydrogen can be produced from coal gasification or natural gas reforming, which utilize two of the same primary resources used by the U.S. electric power system. Coal-fired and natural-gas-fired power plants emit criteria pollutants or their precursors, suggesting that hydrogen production from these resources may be subject to regulatory controls similar to those for coal-fired or natural-gas-fired power plants. The location of the emissions will depend on the type of distribution system, which in turn depends on the scale of production. A distributed production system could have thousands of small sites, each with some emissions, whereas 3 Department of Energy Press Release, “Secretary of Energy Abraham Joins International Community to Establish International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy,” November 20, 2003. 4 As a point of comparison, the analysis included comparison with emissions from hybrid electric vehicles and conventional gasoline internal combustion engines on a sector-wide basis. 5 Criteria pollutants are air pollutants emitted from numerous or diverse stationary or mobile sources for which National Ambient Air Quality Standards have been set to protect human health and public welfare. The original list of criteria pollutants, adopted in 1971, consisted of carbon monoxide, total suspended particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, photochemical oxidants, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. Lead was added to the list in 1976, ozone replaced photochemical oxidants in 1979, and hydrocarbons were dropped in 1983. Total suspended particulate matter was revised in 1987 to include only particles with an equivalent aerodynamic particle diameter of less than or equal to 10 micrometers (PM10). A separate standard for particles with an equivalent aerodynamic particle diameter of less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) was adopted in 1997.
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs a system based on central station production will have a much smaller number of sites but with larger emissions. In summary, the extent to which criteria pollutants would be an issue in a hydrogen energy system would depend on the specific production technologies deployed, the extent of their deployment, and the pollution control equipment and regulatory regimes that are implemented. End use of hydrogen in fuel-cell-powered vehicles will result in a much different mix of types of emissions compared with those from today’s gasoline vehicles, and also a much different profile of where in the life cycle (i.e., at resource extraction, production, distribution, and/or end use) the emissions will occur. Today’s gasoline or diesel-powered car is a major source of criteria pollutant emissions in the United States, whereas the hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle will not emit any criteria pollutants. The only significant emission will be water in the form of vapor or liquid. Small amounts of hydrogen and nitrogen dioxide may be emitted from combusting the tail gas that passes through the fuel cell unreacted. The widespread use of hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles will have a positive impact on air quality in many urban areas of the United States, where cars currently are responsible for large amounts of emissions. However, as noted above, it is during the production phase of the fuel cycle of hydrogen that the potential for the emission of criteria pollutants or greenhouse gas emissions exists. In addition to regulated environmental toxicants, the requirements of a hydrogen energy system with respect to resources such as water and land should be considered. In all of the production processes mentioned in this report, water is used as a source for at least a portion of the hydrogen production—one-third by mass of the hydrogen from biomass gasification comes from water.6 In the hydrocarbon and coal-based processes, a significant portion of the hydrogen comes from water used in the water-gas-shift reaction. In the electrolytic processes, water is split using electricity. In the nuclear processes, water is split using high temperatures. Water is also used as a coolant in many of the processes, and large amounts are needed to grow biomass efficiently. The fuel cell, however, produces water from hydrogen and oxygen. The net balance and also the location of water needs were not reviewed by this committee. Similarly, study is needed of the impact of large-scale biomass growth for feedstock for its impact on land use and any effect on nutrient runoff and eutrophication secondary to fertilizer demand (NRC, 2000). Molecular Hydrogen Molecular hydrogen is a short-lived trace atmospheric gas (with approximately a 2-year lifetime), having tropospheric concentrations of approximately 0.5 part per million. Its global distribution favors slightly higher concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere (about +5 percent), and well-defined seasonal cycles are observed (Novelli et al., 1999). A percentage of today’s atmospheric burden of molecular hydrogen is believed to be secondary to biomass burning and technological processes such as motor vehicle use (Novelli et al., 1999). Hydrogen is removed from the troposphere by surface deposition and by chemical destruction via oxidation with hydroxyl (OH) (Novelli et al., 1999). Various authors have noted that hydrogen is one of many gases that are removed from the troposphere by OH, and that, furthermore, the resulting decreases in concentrations of OH could lead to higher concentrations of methane and tropospheric ozone (Derwent et al., 2001), both of which are established climate forcing agents (NRC, 2001b). Finding 9-6. Any future hydrogen energy system, if based on coal, natural gas, or uranium, will likely imply some of the same environmental consequences that the use of those same resources has caused in today’s energy system. The scope and magnitude of these consequences will depend on the nature of the hydrogen technologies deployed, on the portfolio mix of primary resources on which these technologies are based, and on the pollution control equipment and regulatory regimes that are implemented. Recommendation 9-7. The committee recommends that the Department of Energy initiate a comprehensive assessment of the suite of environmental issues anticipated to arise secondary to deployment of a hydrogen energy system, and that the DOE develop a quantitative understanding of the trade-offs and impacts. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY PROGRAM As part of its effort, the committee reviewed the June 3, 2003, draft of “Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Infrastructure Technologies Program: Multi-Year Research, Development and Demonstration Plan” (DOE, 2003b). Although very impressed by the plan and its thoroughness, the committee believes that several general aspects of the plan need to be addressed in greater detail. Comments on the individual technology sections of the plan are contained in Chapter 8. First, the plan is focused primarily on the activities within the Office of Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Infrastructure Technologies in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and it only casually mentions activities in the Office of Fossil Energy; the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology; the Office of Science; and activities related to CO2 management. Development of an RD&D plan for the totality of the DOE’s hydrogen program will require a plan with better balance and integration. Second, it is very difficult to identify priorities within the myriad of activities that are proposed. A general budget is 6 Margaret Mann and Ralph Overend, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “Hydrogen from Biomass: Prospective Resources, Technologies, and Economics,” presentation to the committee, January 22, 2003.
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The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs given in Appendix C in this report, but when discussing the various activities, no dollar amounts are given even for existing projects and programs. The committee found it difficult to judge the plans and priorities for each of the R&D areas. And finally, the plan needs to incorporate to a greater extent a set of “go/no go” decision points in the various development time lines. Recommendation 9-8. The Department of Energy should continue to develop its hydrogen research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) plan to improve the integration and balance of activities within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; the Office of Fossil Energy (including programs related to carbon sequestration); the Office of Nuclear Energy Science and Technology; and the Office of Science. The committee believes that, overall, the production, distribution, and dispensing portion of the program is probably underfunded, particularly because a significant fraction of appropriated funds is already earmarked. The committee understands that of the $78 million appropriated for hydrogen technology for FY 2004 in the Energy and Water appropriations bill (Public Law 108-137), $37 million is earmarked for activities that will not particularly advance the hydrogen initiative. The committee also believes that the hydrogen program, in an attempt to meet the extreme challenges set by senior government and DOE leaders, has tried to establish RD&D activities in too many areas, creating a very diverse, somewhat unfocused program. Thus, prioritizing the efforts both within and across program areas, establishing milestones and go/no-go decisions, and adjusting the program on the basis of results are all extremely important in a program with so many challenges. This approach will also help determine when it is appropriate to take a program to the demonstration stage. And finally, the committee believes that the probability of success in bringing the United States to a hydrogen economy will be greatly increased by partnering with a broader range of academic and industrial organizations—possibly including an international focus—and by establishing an independent program review process and board. Recommendation 9-9. As a framework for recommending and prioritizing the Department of Energy program, the committee considered the following: Technologies that could significantly impact U.S. energy security and carbon dioxide emissions, The timescale for the evolution of the hydrogen economy, Technology developments needed for both the transition period and the steady state, Externalities that would decelerate technology implementation, and The comparative advantage of the DOE in research and development of technologies at the pre-competitive stage. The committee recommends that the following areas receive increased emphasis: Fuel cell vehicle development. Increase research and development (R&D) to facilitate breakthroughs in fuel cell costs and in durability of fuel cell materials, as well as breakthroughs in on-board hydrogen storage systems; Distributed hydrogen generation. Increase R&D in small-scale natural gas reforming, electrolysis, and new concepts for distributed hydrogen production systems; Infrastructure analysis. Accelerate and increase efforts in systems modeling and analysis for hydrogen delivery, with the objective of developing options and helping guide R&D in large-scale infrastructure development; Carbon sequestration and FutureGen. Accelerate development and early evaluation of the viability of carbon capture and storage (sequestration) on a large scale because of its implications for the long-term use of coal for hydrogen production. Continue the FutureGen Project as a high-priority task; and Carbon dioxide-free energy technologies. Increase emphasis on the development of wind-energy-to-hydrogen as an important technology for the hydrogen transition period and potentially for the longer term. Increase exploratory and fundamental research on hydrogen production by photobiological, photoelectrochemical, thin-film solar, and nuclear heat processes.