Higher electricity prices have drawn sharp attention to the design of organized wholesale electricity markets—particularly to areas where residential customers’ rates will increase because multi-...
The "Frontlines" article in the Feb. 1, 2002 issue of by Richard Stavros gives me a welcome opportunity to contribute to the ongoing debate about how to supply hydrogen to fuel-cell-powered vehicles. In his article "Forgetting Someone, Mr. Secretary? The DOE's new hydrogen car initiative won't get very far without electric utilities," Mr. Stavros is critical of DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham's recent announcement of the "Freedom Cooperative Automotive Research" (or "Freedom CAR" for short) program as the follow-on to the "Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles." The reason is that in this new public-private partnership to promote hydrogen as a fuel for cars and trucks, he did not include the electric utilities. Mr. Stavros seems to fall into the same trap as so many of the major car manufacturers in assuming the need for a prohibitively costly infrastructure to supply this hydrogen when one already exists that offers by far the cheapest and environmentally vastly superior option-the natural gas transmission and distribution system.
His preferred option, until we have developed decentralized renewable power sources such as photovoltaics, is to use the electric transmission and distribution grid to supply electrolytic hydrogen. However, he recognizes that, since more than half of our power is generated from coal, this would greatly increase the emission of "greenhouse" gases-primarily carbon dioxide (CO 2)-even compared to conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. However, packaged natural gas steam reformers can produce hydrogen for refueling vehicles with on-board pressure storage at much lower cost and with the lowest CO 2 emissions from "well-to-wheels" of any option for powering surface transport. They would make ideal hydrogen filling stations.
Seth Dunn, in his August 2001 Worldwatch Paper 157, "Hydrogen Futures-Toward a Sustainable Energy System", cites data which show that, thanks to the synergies of the high-efficiency of natural gas steam reforming, the low carbon/hydrogen ratio of natural gas and the threefold efficiency improvement in going from ICE drive to proton exchange membrane fuel cell-powered electromotive drive, CO 2 emissions per kilometer traveled ranges from less than one-third to one-half those of the other options-gasoline ICE, on-board gasoline or methanol fuel processing, and even decentralized electrolysis using natural gas for power generation. Citing a recent study by the Princeton University Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Dunn also shows that total life-cycle costs, including environmental damage and consumer costs, of fuel cell vehicles powered with reformed natural gas would compete for the lowest value with gasoline hybrids. This assumes, of course, that the 40-fold cost reduction of the fuel cell drive train can be achieved.
I agree with the Princeton team that centrally refueled fleet vehicles offer an early market that would permit reductions in both fuel cell drive train and on-board hydrogen storage costs. Again, the Princeton team and I agree that the on-board gasoline or methanol (another non-logistic fuel!) processing approach favored by the major automakers is misdirected and based on the false premise of the need for a prohibitively expensive hydrogen infrastructure.
There are a lot of candidates for the title "father of the hydrogen economy" as pointed