assuming the new technologies are developed and marketed successfully. This exercise should consider the impact of the DOE contributions on when the technologies enter the market as well as the probability of overall success. Insofar as possible, the panel shall perform this exercise for the alternative funding levels considered in Task 2.

4. The panel will then apply the committee’s methodology to estimate the value of the benefits of DOE’s fuel cell R&D programs under several scenarios to be provided by the committee, including economic, environmental, and national security benefits. Environmental and national security benefits may be left in physical units (e.g., tons of emissions or barrels of oil imported) or just described if the economic values have not been determined by the committee. Insofar as possible, the panel shall perform this exercise for the alternative funding levels considered in Task 2.

5. The panel will prepare a report for the committee detailing its analyses, supporting the conclusions, and commenting on the practicality and adequacy of the methodology used to estimate benefits.


Objective of Study and Statement of Work

The Panel on Benefits of Fuel Cell R&D assisted the Committee on Prospective Benefits of DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Fossil Energy R&D Programs with the development of a methodology for estimating the benefits of applied R&D. The methodology is to be used for prospectively estimating the benefits of ongoing R&D programs and was developed initially by the committee. The work of the committee is a follow-on to the NRC report Energy Research at DOE: Was It Worth It? (NRC, 2001),4 concerned with retrospectively estimating the benefits of DOE R&D funded between 1978 and 2000.

In this subpanel report, the vehicle fuel cell subpanel estimates the benefits that could be provided by current fuel cell R&D activities at DOE related to vehicle applications. (Stationary applications are considered in the following subpanel report.) The subpanel further provides observations on the merits of the methodology itself, on the basis of the subpanel’s experience applying it to a real-world example.

The subpanel conducted meetings in Washington, D.C., on July 20-21, 2004, and August 18-19, 2004. These meetings included open, information-gathering sessions attended by DOE headquarters staff who briefed the panel on fuel cell R&D programs and resulting benefits. This report of the subpanel is based on information gleaned from these meetings, documents supplied by DOE, and the panel’s knowledge of the subject.

Prospective Benefits Matrix
Cautionary Note

The subpanel cautions against using the prospective benefits matrix that it completed for this study as anything more than an illustrative example of the methodology. The subpanel did not have the resources to generate its own data to evaluate benefits of the vehicle fuel cell program. Furthermore, the subpanel believes that to compare the benefits with the costs of the program requires that all elements of the Hydrogen, Fuel Cell and Infrastructure Technologies (HFCIT) Program5—including R&D on hydrogen production, distribution, and storage and R&D on fuel cells—be evaluated together because of their extreme interdependence.

Having completed its report, the subpanel views as valuable products its assessment of the probability of success for the technical goals of the relevant activities and its suggestions for improving the assumptions used as input to the Energy Information Administration’s National Energy Modeling System (NEMS) and MARKAL models. The subpanel commends DOE for having assembled a comprehensive R&D program, for already having taken measures to correct some of the overly optimistic assumptions that it has made in its benefits analysis, for including go/no-go decision points; and for pursuing R&D in important areas that have received limited attention to date.

Technical Probability

Table H-1 lists the technical goals established by DOE for achieving a production- and market-ready fuel cell vehicle by 2015. Table H-1 also gives the subpanel’s estimates of the probability of success (high, medium, or low) and the reasons for these estimates. Most of the goals appear appropriate, except for the efficiency and cold-start goals, as discussed below. The subpanel’s reservations relate mostly to the lack of data needed to convince its members that the goals will be achieved.

The greatest concerns with respect to technical probability are with cost and durability. The latest cost estimate for an 80 kilowatt (kW) direct compressed hydrogen fuel cell system is $145/kW, based on reduced membrane and platinum cost assumptions (TIAX, 2004). An almost fivefold reduction in cost is required to reach the target of $30/kW. Two components alone already add up to more than this—the membrane ($16/kW) and the electrodes ($22/kW)—and the subpanel has no data to make it optimistic that these costs


The methodology for estimating benefits retrospectively is described in Appendix D of NRC (2001).


The HFCIT program resides within the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and receives funding from both the Energy and Water appropriation and the Interior and Related Agencies appropriation. The portion of the HFCIT funding related to fuel cell systems derives from the latter.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement