Abstract

In response to a congressional request in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, this National Research Council (NRC) study estimated the maximum practicable number of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) that could be deployed in the United States by 2020 and beyond, together with the investments, time, and government actions needed to carry out this transition. The study determined the consequent reductions in U.S. oil consumption and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the main greenhouse gas linked to global climate change—that could be expected. It then compared those reductions with the potential impact that the use of alternative vehicle technologies and biofuels might have on oil consumption and CO2 emissions.

The NRC’s Committee on Assessment of Resource Needs for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies concluded that the maximum practical number of HFCVs that could be operating in 2020 would be approximately 2 million in a fleet of 280 million light-duty vehicles. The number of HFCVs could grow rapidly thereafter to about 25 million by 2030. Rather than a prediction of the future by the committee, this is a scenario based on the committee’s 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 fuel cell vehicles through the market transition period.

The use of HFCVs can achieve large and sustained reductions in U.S. oil consumption and CO2 emissions, but several decades will be needed to realize these potential long-term benefits. Considerable progress is still required toward improving fuel cell costs and durability, as well as on-board hydrogen storage. The substantial financial commitments and technical progress made in recent years by the automotive industry, private entrepreneurs, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) suggest that HFCVs and hydrogen production technologies could be ready for commercialization in the 2015-2020 time frame. Such vehicles are not likely to be cost-competitive until after 2020, but by 2050 HFCVs could account for more than 80 percent of new vehicles entering the fleet.

An accelerated transition to HFCVs would require that automobile manufacturers ramp up production of fuel cell vehicles even while they cost much more than conventional vehicles, and that investments be made to build and operate hydrogen fueling stations even while the market for hydrogen is very limited. Substantial government actions and assistance would therefore be needed to support such a transition to HFCVs in the 2020 time frame, even with good technical progress on fuel cell and hydrogen production technologies. Substantial and sustained research and development (R&D) programs also are required to further reduce the costs of fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen after 2020.

The committee estimated the government cost to support a transition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as being roughly $55 billion from 2008 to 2023 (when fuel cell vehicles would become competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles). This funding includes a substantial R&D program ($5 billion), support for the demonstration and deployment of the vehicles while they are more expensive than conventional vehicles ($40 billion), and support for the production of hydrogen ($10 billion). Private industry would be investing far more, about $145 billion for R&D, vehicle manufacturing, and hydrogen infrastructure over the same period.

Current U.S. government expenditures, largely for R&D, are about $300 million per year, primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy. If 2 million HFCVs are to be on the road by 2020, R&D funding may have to be increased by as much as 20 percent over the next several years. Annual government expenditures will have to be much higher to support the commercial introduction of HFCVs, about $3 billion in 2015 and increasing to $8 billion in 2023.

Potential synergies between the transportation sector and the electric power sector may help reduce the cost of hydrogen. In the near term, electrolysis of water can provide hydrogen in areas where natural gas or other sources are



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abstract In response to a congressional request in the Energy 2050 HFCVs could account for more than 80 percent of new Policy Act of 2005, this National Research Council (NRC) vehicles entering the fleet. study estimated the maximum practicable number of hydro- An accelerated transition to HFCVs would require that gen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) that could be deployed in automobile manufacturers ramp up production of fuel cell the United States by 2020 and beyond, together with the vehicles even while they cost much more than conventional investments, time, and government actions needed to carry vehicles, and that investments be made to build and oper- out this transition. The study determined the consequent ate hydrogen fueling stations even while the market for reductions in U.S. oil consumption and emissions of carbon hydrogen is very limited. Substantial government actions dioxide (CO2)—the main greenhouse gas linked to global and assistance would therefore be needed to support such a climate change—that could be expected. It then compared transition to HFCVs in the 2020 time frame, even with good those reductions with the potential impact that the use of technical progress on fuel cell and hydrogen production alternative vehicle technologies and biofuels might have on technologies. Substantial and sustained research and devel- oil consumption and CO2 emissions. opment (R&D) programs also are required to further reduce The NRC’s Committee on Assessment of Resource Needs the costs of fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen after 2020. for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies concluded that the The committee estimated the government cost to support maximum practical number of HFCVs that could be operat- a transition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as being roughly ing in 2020 would be approximately 2 million in a fleet of $55 billion from 2008 to 2023 (when fuel cell vehicles would 280 million light-duty vehicles. The number of HFCVs could become competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles). This grow rapidly thereafter to about 25 million by 2030. Rather funding includes a substantial R&D program ($5 billion), than a prediction of the future by the committee, this is a support for the demonstration and deployment of the vehicles scenario based on the committee’s estimate of the maximum while they are more expensive than conventional vehicles penetration rate, assuming that technical goals are met, that ($40 billion), and support for the production of hydrogen consumers readily accept HFCVs, and that policy instru- ($10 billion). Private industry would be investing far more, ments are in place to drive the introduction of hydrogen fuel about $145 billion for R&D, vehicle manufacturing, and and fuel cell vehicles through the market transition period. hydrogen infrastructure over the same period. The use of HFCVs can achieve large and sustained Current U.S. government expenditures, largely for R&D, reductions in U.S. oil consumption and CO2 emissions, but are about $300 million per year, primarily by the U.S. several decades will be needed to realize these potential Department of Energy. If 2 million HFCVs are to be on the long-term benefits. Considerable progress is still required road by 2020, R&D funding may have to be increased by as toward improving fuel cell costs and durability, as well much as 20 percent over the next several years. Annual gov- as on-board hydrogen storage. The substantial financial ernment expenditures will have to be much higher to support commitments and technical progress made in recent years the commercial introduction of HFCVs, about $3 billion in by the automotive industry, private entrepreneurs, and the 2015 and increasing to $8 billion in 2023. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) suggest that HFCVs and Potential synergies between the transportation sector hydrogen production technologies could be ready for com- and the electric power sector may help reduce the cost of mercialization in the 2015-2020 time frame. Such vehicles hydrogen. In the near term, electrolysis of water can provide are not likely to be cost-competitive until after 2020, but by hydrogen in areas where natural gas or other sources are 

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 TRANSITIONS TO ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGIES—A FOCUS ON HyDROGEN unavailable. In the longer term (after 2025), co-generation approaches were likely to grow at a smaller rate thereafter, of low-carbon hydrogen and electricity in gasification-based even with continued technological improvements, whereas energy plants may be an option. hydrogen offers greater longer-term potential. Thus, as esti- The main advantage of a transition to HFCVs is the mated by the committee, the greatest benefits will come from potential for reducing the use of oil and emissions of CO2. a portfolio of R&D technologies that would allow the United Although hydrogen could not replace much gasoline before States to achieve deep reductions in oil use, nearly 100 per- 2025, the 25 years after that would see a dramatic decline cent by 2050 for the light-duty vehicle fleet. Achieving this in the use of gasoline in the light-duty vehicle fleet to about goal, however, will require significant new energy security one-third of current projections, if the assumptions of the and environmental policy actions in addition to technological maximum practical case are met. Emissions of CO2 will developments. Although broad policies aimed at reducing oil decline almost as much if hydrogen is produced with carbon use and CO2 emissions will be useful, they are unlikely to capture and sequestration or from nonfossil sources. be adequate to facilitate the rapid introduction of HFCVs. A The committee also found that alternatives such as competitive and self-sustaining HFCV fleet is possible in the improved fuel economy for conventional vehicles, increased long term but will require hydrogen-specific policies in the penetration of hybrid vehicles, and biomass-derived fuels nearer term. These policies must be substantial and durable in could deliver significantly greater reductions in U.S. oil order to assure industry that the necessary long-term invest- use and CO2 emissions than could use of HFCVs over the ments can be made safely. next two decades, but that the longer-term benefits of such