The United States government must make a substantial financial investment in the conversion to fuel cells if the world is to realize the forecasted benefits of the hydrogen economy, according to a study released by Johannes Thijssen, a Director at TIAX, at the 2002 Fuel Cell Seminar in Palm Springs, California.
"While using hydrogen as a vehicle fuel or for any fuel purpose has long been a topic of visionary discussions, it is clear that we will not see a hydrogen economy in the short term without the active leadership of the U.S. government," said Thijssen. "Government has the power, the resources and the reach to spur industry into action and make the transition to hydrogen a reality. We are confident that with government and industry working in tandem, Americans will more quickly realize the substantial environmental and strategic benefits of a hydrogen economy."
Hydrogen fueling stations would be similar in structure and service to gas stations, except that the vehicle fuel dispensed would be hydrogen rather than gasoline. Near term, the sources of hydrogen will be primarily natural gas and other hydrocarbons. The longer term strategy will be to transition to some combination of renewables, nuclear, and coal (with CO2 sequestation). While the initial costs of the fueling stations are substantial because of factors such as the high equipment costs, the benefits, such as lower emissions and a reduction in green house gases, can be realized once the system is in place, according to TIAX.
Thijssen's presentation centered on analysis that TIAX conducted for the Department of Energy's Office of Advanced Transportation Technologies analyzing the long-term benefits, risks, and costs of implementing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The study also evaluated a wide range of other fuel and vehicle combinations.
Other findings of the analysis include: Hydrogen-fueled fuel cell vehicles (FCV) could result in a well-to-tank energy savings of 50% over conventional vehicles because the hydrogen FCV fuel economy benefit offsets the lower efficiency of fuel production.
Ownership costs for all FCV options is expected to be $1,000 to $2,000 higher per year than that of conventional and advanced ICE vehicles, even with the projected advances in fuel cell technology, primarily due to the higher cost of the vehicle.
Hydrogen generated using renewables, such as wind, is currently more than 1.5 times as costly as that generated from conventional sources, such as natural gas. In the longer term, this gap will decrease significantly, or disappear, as renewable technologies improve and prices of conventional fuels increase.
One factor that drives the cost of fuel cell production is the high cost and limited availability of platinum, which is necessary for fuel cell production. TIAX concluded that the first 30 to 40 years of the hydrogen economy, platinum would be a major issue but following that period, advances in technology should be able to compensate for the use of platinum.
The theme of the 2002 Fuel Cell Seminar, "Fuel Cells - Reliable, Clean Energy for the World," reflects the impact that fuel cell technology will have in meeting global energy and environmental needs. The conference kicked off on Monday with a session featuring a panel of experts who described near-term plans to deploy fuel cells in many applications - portable electronic devices, distributed generation and transportation.
TIAX, the former Technology & Innovation division of Arthur D. Little, works with clients on the development and implementation of new technologies and products across a wide cross-section of industries, including the energy industry. As part of their focus on the energy sector, the company works in conjunction with the U.S. government and various commercial organizations to assess and analyze fuel cell development, examine the benefits of fuel cell use, explore the costs associated with fuel cell technology and investigate the proposed manufacturing and utilization of fuel cells.