1
Introduction

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles show great promise for alleviating two of the most difficult issues facing the nation: climate change and the insecurity of oil imports. Fuel cells convert the chemical energy of hydrogen directly to electricity, which drives the vehicle. The process is very efficient and clean, especially relative to internal combustion engines. The only emission is water, the result of combining hydrogen with oxygen from the atmosphere. No gasoline is used, and no carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas that causes climate change, is produced or emitted from the vehicle.

That promise, however, will be realized only after some very substantial challenges are met:

  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) currently are extremely expensive, several hundred thousand dollars each, in part because the few that are operating are hand built, with no benefits of mass production. However, the fuel cells themselves and on-board storage of hydrogen are very expensive. Considerable research and development (R&D) are necessary to bring these costs down to where HFCVs will be competitive with conventional vehicles.

  • Hydrogen is not a natural resource but must be manufactured from a primary energy source (e.g., natural gas or coal) or from electrolysis of water, which requires electricity. More energy is required to produce hydrogen than can be recovered from the hydrogen. All current methods of producing commercial hydrogen also emit significant amounts of CO2 per unit of hydrogen produced, either from the feedstock fuel or from the fuels used to generate electricity. Although not now prohibitively expensive, hydrogen costs also must be reduced by R&D, especially if it is to be produced with little or no emission of carbon dioxide.

  • There is currently no infrastructure for supplying hydrogen to HFCVs. The very few hydrogen filling stations in the country were built to service test vehicles. Thousands will have to be built if hydrogen is to become the dominant transportation fuel. In addition, facilities for producing the hydrogen and delivering it to the filling stations must be built.

  • Even though projections show that hydrogen HFCVs could be the vehicle of choice in several decades, the transition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be challenging. Sufficient filling stations must be available to assure early purchasers of HFCVs that they will be able to operate their vehicles, but companies will be reluctant to build the stations until there is business for them.

These issues, especially the potential for reductions in the use of oil and emissions of carbon dioxide, prompted the U.S. Congress to request this study in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In response, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) arranged for this study from the National Research Council (NRC). It focuses on the resources that will be needed to bring fuel cell and hydrogen technologies to readiness and then get them through the transition to the point that they will be self-supporting. The NRC established the Committee on Assessment of Resource Needs for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies, which was guided by the following statement of task:

The National Academy of Sciences National Research Council will appoint a committee to carry out a study of fuel cell technologies that provides a budget roadmap (e.g., what investments in R&D, demonstrations, skilled people, infrastructure will be required) for the development of fuel cell technologies and the transition from petroleum to hydrogen in a significant percentage of the vehicles sold by 2020. The committee will:

  1. establish as a goal the maximum percentage practicable of vehicles that the committee determines can be fueled by hydrogen by 2020;

  2. determine the amount of funding required as a whole (public and private), and to the extent possible the Federal investments required, to meet the goal established under paragraph (1). Consideration will be given to investments



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1 introduction Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles show great promise for alle- hydrogen and delivering it to the filling stations must be viating two of the most difficult issues facing the nation: built. • Even though projections show that hydrogen HFCVs climate change and the insecurity of oil imports. Fuel cells convert the chemical energy of hydrogen directly to could be the vehicle of choice in several decades, the tran- electricity, which drives the vehicle. The process is very sition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be challenging. efficient and clean, especially relative to internal combustion Sufficient filling stations must be available to assure early engines. The only emission is water, the result of combining purchasers of HFCVs that they will be able to operate their hydrogen with oxygen from the atmosphere. No gasoline vehicles, but companies will be reluctant to build the stations is used, and no carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse until there is business for them. gas that causes climate change, is produced or emitted from the vehicle. These issues, especially the potential for reductions in That promise, however, will be realized only after some the use of oil and emissions of carbon dioxide, prompted the very substantial challenges are met: U.S. Congress to request this study in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In response, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) currently are arranged for this study from the National Research Council extremely expensive, several hundred thousand dollars (NRC). It focuses on the resources that will be needed to each, in part because the few that are operating are hand bring fuel cell and hydrogen technologies to readiness and built, with no benefits of mass production. However, the fuel then get them through the transition to the point that they will cells themselves and on-board storage of hydrogen are very be self-supporting. The NRC established the Committee on expensive. Considerable research and development (R&D) Assessment of Resource Needs for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen are necessary to bring these costs down to where HFCVs will Technologies, which was guided by the following statement be competitive with conventional vehicles. of task: • Hydrogen is not a natural resource but must be manu- The National Academy of Sciences National Research factured from a primary energy source (e.g., natural gas or Council will appoint a committee to carry out a study of fuel coal) or from electrolysis of water, which requires electricity. cell technologies that provides a budget roadmap (e.g., what More energy is required to produce hydrogen than can be investments in R&D, demonstrations, skilled people, infra- recovered from the hydrogen. All current methods of produc- structure will be required) for the development of fuel cell ing commercial hydrogen also emit significant amounts of technologies and the transition from petroleum to hydrogen CO2 per unit of hydrogen produced, either from the feedstock in a significant percentage of the vehicles sold by 2020. The fuel or from the fuels used to generate electricity. Although committee will: not now prohibitively expensive, hydrogen costs also must be reduced by R&D, especially if it is to be produced with (1) establish as a goal the maximum percentage practicable little or no emission of carbon dioxide. of vehicles that the committee determines can be fueled by • There is currently no infrastructure for supplying hydrogen by 2020; hydrogen to HFCVs. The very few hydrogen filling stations (2) determine the amount of funding required as a whole (public and private), and to the extent possible the Federal in the country were built to service test vehicles. Thousands investments required, to meet the goal established under will have to be built if hydrogen is to become the dominant paragraph (1). Consideration will be given to investments transportation fuel. In addition, facilities for producing the 

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0 TRANSITIONS TO ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGIES—A FOCUS ON HyDROGEN opment (R&D), to get there. This report updates the review needed for R&D, demonstrations, skilled people, and in- frastructure; of the rapidly improving technology and focuses on the (3) determine what actions are required to meet the goal resources needed to have a significant number of HFCVs in established under paragraph (1); operation by 2020. Increasing concern over both petroleum (4) examine the need for expanded and enhanced Federal imports and climate change suggests that an earlier introduc- research and development programs, changes in regulations, tion of HFCVs, relative to the projections in the 2004 report, grant programs, partnerships between the Federal Govern- could be desirable. In assessing the potential of HFCVs to ment and industry, private sector investments, infrastruc- achieve significant reductions in oil imports and CO2 emis- ture investments by the Federal Government and industry, sions, the committee also benefited from interactions with educational and public information initiatives, and Federal the NRC’s Committee on Review of the Research Program and State tax incentives to meet the goal established under of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership, which evaluated paragraph (1); progress in the R&D programs related to fuel cell vehicle (5) consider the role that the use of hydrogen in stationary electric power applications, as well as advanced vehicle technologies and hydrogen production technologies in the technologies, will play in stimulating the transition to hydro- partnership between DOE, the three domestic automotive gen-fueled hybrid electric vehicles. Also consider whether companies, and five energy companies (NRC, 2008). Many other technologies would be less expensive or could be more of the technical conclusions in this report stemmed from quickly implemented than fuel cell technologies to achieve that cooperation. The present committee also conducted its significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and oil own analysis on a variety of issues and heard from many imports; experts in industry, academia, and research centers, as listed (6) take into account any reports relating to fuel cell tech- in Appendix B. nologies and hydrogen-fueled vehicles, including (a) the In this report: National Academies report issued in 2004 entitled Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs; • Chapter 2 presents a framework for considering an and (b) the report prepared by the U.S. Fuel Cell Council in 2003 entitled Fuel Cells and Hydrogen: The Path Forward; accelerated transition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. (7) consider the challenges, difficulties, and potential barriers • Chapter 3 then reviews the progress of the technologies to meeting the goal established under paragraph (1); and that will be necessary to make the introduction of HFCVs (8) with respect to the budget roadmap (a) specify the amount feasible. This includes hydrogen production as well as the of funding required on an annual basis from the Federal vehicles themselves. Government and industry to carry out the budget roadmap; • Chapter 4 examines two alternative approaches to and (b) specify the advantages and disadvantages to moving reducing the use of petroleum and emissions of carbon diox- toward the transition to hydrogen in vehicles in accordance ide from vehicles—advanced conventional vehicles and fuels with the timeline established by the budget roadmap. derived from biomass (biofuels)—to compare their potential (9) Write a report documenting its study and assessment. to HFCVs. • The possible relationship between hydrogen for The committee’s priorities from the statement of task transportation and the electric power system is explored in were as follows: Chapter 5. This includes an examination of electrolysis for hydrogen production during the transition, as well as central • Establish as a goal the maximum practicable per- station plants producing hydrogen that could also be used for centage of vehicles that can be fueled by hydrogen by stationary electricity production. 2020; • Chapter 6 presents several scenarios designed to • Determine the funding, public and private, to reach that analyze the transition and its impacts. Building on the tech- goal; nology assessment in Chapter 3, one scenario examines the • Determine the government actions required to achieve rapid introduction of HFCVs. Two others look at the rapid the goal; improvement in conventional fuel economy and at the use of • Establish a budget roadmap to achieve the goal; biofuels, as discussed in Chapter 4. Finally, another scenario • Evaluate the synergy between the use of hydrogen in projects the impact on fuel use and CO2 emissions if all paths stationary electric power applications and in hydrogen-fueled are pursued simultaneously. Variants of these scenarios also vehicles; and were analyzed, as reported in Appendix C. • Assess other technologies which could achieve signifi- • The funding for research, development and demonstra- cant CO2 and oil reductions by 2020. tion (RD&D), as well as the investments in vehicle produc- tion and hydrogen infrastructure that will be required for a This report builds on an earlier NRC report prepared for transition to HFCVs, are discussed in Chapter 7. The chapter DOE, The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barri- culminates with the budget roadmap mandated in the state- ers, and R&D Needs (NRC, 2004). That study examined how ment of task above, plus a discussion of how costs might be the hydrogen economy might work and the track the nation shared between the private sector and government. might follow, especially with regard to research and devel-

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 INTRODUCTION • The federal government must supply more than just reFereNces funding to stimulate a transition to fuel cell vehicles. A vari- NRC (National Research Council). 2004. The Hydrogen Economy: Op- ety of other policy requirements and options are explored in portunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs. Washington, D.C.: The Chapter 8. National Academies Press. • Finally, Chapter 9 assesses the broad advantages and NRC. 2008. Review of the Research Program of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership: Second Report. Washington, D.C.: The National disadvantages of accelerating this transition. Academies Press.