Every car company is bringing out a hydrogen-fuel or hydrogen hybrid cars. There is similar enthusiasm for electric cars and gas-electric hybrids, but not as much as for hydrogen, because these modified vehicles add components like batteries and electric motors etc. to the car which increase their manufacturing costs. Hydrogen fuel cells have a very simple engine, which has auto giants all giddy with expectations about the future of their companies. Even struggling Italian auto giant Fiat unveiled a hydrogen concept car, called the Fiat Panda, seen above. The name is significant, since the Panda is the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Then there are the celebrities and hydrogen cars; like Jay Leno and Arnold Schwarzenegger prominent among them, who are enthusiastically pushing for the creation of a hydrogen economy to replace the oil economy of the last century. But is there too much hype about hydrogen fuel?
President Bush, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the big automakers agree on this much: They love hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology and its promise of a zero-emission, petroleum-free future.
Unfortunately, experts say it will be 40 years or more before hydrogen has any meaningful impact on gasoline consumption or global warming, and we can't afford to wait that long. In the meantime, fuel cells are diverting resources from more immediate solutions.
"As a climate strategy, it's not very good," said Dr. Joseph Romm, executive director of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions and author of The Hype About Hydrogen: Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate. "We don't have the time."
In the short and medium term, however, other technologies offer far greater benefit at far less cost: Cleaner internal combustion engines, hybrids and plug-in hybrids.
To some extent, politicians and policymakers recognize that hydrogen remains a long way off, which is one reason the California Air Resources Board has told automakers to build 58,000 plug-in hybrids by 2014. And automakers are building cleaner gasoline and diesel engines while developing hybrids. But the emphasis remains squarely on hydrogen.
Many hurdles remain to be cleared before hydrogen is a viable source of energy -- not the least of which are making, storing and distributing it on a large scale. Meeting these challenges will require, in the words of several hydrogen proponents, a "Manhattan Project"-level of research and funding. And we're a long way from the hydrogen economy President Bush envisioned in his 2003 State of the Union.
There are 175 fuel cell vehicles in California and more coming.
There are roughly 240 million vehicles in America and about 16 million new vehicles sold each year. That means it takes about 15 years to turn over the fleet. But it takes even longer for new technologies to penetrate the market. After 10 years, hybrids accounted for just 2.2 percent of domestic auto sales last year. Run the numbers and Heywood estimates fuel cell vehicles will need 25 years to make up 35 percent of new vehicle sales and 20 years beyond that to get to 35 percent of the U.S. fleet.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Posted by Chrissy at 12:55 AM