FIGURE 6-21 Estimated total annual fuel costs for light-duty vehicles: current hydrogen production technologies (electrolysis and renewables), 2000–2050. Each line for the various hydrogen production technologies assumes that hydrogen-fueled vehicles capture the market shares over time (at the rates shown in Figure 6-1) and that all of the hydrogen is produced using the particular technology denoted (e.g., MS Bio-C, Dist Elec-C, and so on); gasoline hybrid electric vehicles (GHEVs) are being phased in and then out of the market using the estimates in Figure 6-1. Two other cost curves are provided, one displaying an estimation of the annual fuel cost with only conventional vehicles (“no hydrogen or GHEVs”). A second line provides an estimate of total annual fuel costs if GHEVs ultimately capture 100 percent of the market share and hydrogen-fueled vehicles are never introduced (“GHEVs, no hydrogen”). See Table 5-2 in Chapter 5 and discussion in text. NOTE: The cost curve for distributed electrolysis (Dist Elec-C) is obscured by the cost curve for distributed wind turbine/grid hybrid electrolysis (Dist WT-Gr Ele-C), since these two cost estimates are virtually identical.

electricity have substantially greater costs than those for a system with no hybrids or conventional vehicles. Likewise, the biomass technologies are substantially more costly. Therefore, if research and development are successful and the possible new technologies are developed consistent with the committee’s estimations, and if the challenges associated with fuel cell vehicles themselves are solved, almost all of these technologies might be able to compete successfully with conventional gasoline-fueled vehicles, and most would lead to total costs that are roughly comparable with the costs of operating GHEVs.

The committee expects that, absent hydrogen, GHEVs, not conventional vehicles, will come to dominate the fleet of automobiles; nonetheless, the cost of conventional vehicles provides a useful benchmark. This cost is consistent with current cost per mile driven and growth in vehicle miles influenced by population and income growth. Thus, the conventional vehicle cost is consistent with what Americans have been willing to pay for the fuel costs of driving (itself only a fraction of the total costs of driving). Thus, Figures 6-22 and 6-23 show that if the possible future technologies are successfully developed and have costs consistent with the committee’s estimates, all but the biomass and the grid-electric or photovoltaic-based electrolysis technologies could be operated at costs less than what Americans have been willing to pay for the fuel costs of driving.


In this chapter, the committee examined its vision of how the energy system might operate if hydrogen-fueled vehicles were broadly adopted in place of gasoline-fueled vehicles. The implications of broad adoption of hydrogen for other purposes, such as electricity generation, are not examined in depth. However, this examination of the transition to hydrogen for light-duty vehicles suggests that the implications for the energy system could be profound, depending on which technologies were adopted. Some technologies could lead to sharp reductions in the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere, but not all could lead to such environmental

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