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Amreica’s Enery Future: Technology and Transformation
electric and all-electric vehicles feasible will be discussed in several forthcoming National Research Council reports.
Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (HFCV) technology has progressed rapidly over the last several years, and large numbers of such vehicles could be introduced by 2015. Current HFCVs are very expensive because they are largely hand built. For example, in 2008, Honda released a small number of HFCVs named FCX Clarity which cost several hundred thousands of dollars to produce (Fackler, 2008). However, technological improvements and economies of scale brought about by mass production should greatly reduce costs.
This section provides a synopsis of the National Research Council report Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies—A Focus on Hydrogen (NRC, 2008), which concluded that the maximum practical number of HFCVs that could be operating in 2020 would be about 2 million, among 280 million LDVs in the United States. By about 2023, as costs of the vehicles and hydrogen drop, HFCVs could become competitive on a life-cycle basis. Their number could grow rapidly thereafter to about 25 million by 2030, and by 2050 they could account for more than 80 percent of new vehicles entering the U.S. LDV market. Those numbers are not predictions but rather a scenario-based 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 HFCVs through the market transition period.
The scenario would require that automobile manufacturers increase production of HFCVs even while they cost much more than conventional vehicles do and that investments be made to build and operate hydrogen fueling stations even while the market for hydrogen is very small. Substantial government actions and assistance would be needed to support such a transition to HFCVs by 2020 even with continued technical progress in fuel-cell and hydrogen-production technologies.
A large per-vehicle subsidy would be needed in the early years of the transition, but the number of vehicles per year would be low (Box 5.1) (NRC, 2008). Subsidies per vehicle would decline with fuel-cell costs, which are expected to drop rapidly with improved technology and economies of scale. By about 2025, an HFCV would cost only slightly more than an equivalent gasoline vehicle. Annual expenditures to support the commercial introduction of HFCVs would
store enough hydrogen on board to give an all-hydrogen ICE vehicle an acceptable range. The BMW hydrogen ICE also can use gasoline.