Hydrogen fuel cells are a waste of time and money

A Committee on the Present Danger Policy Paper:  OIL & SECURITY by George P. Shultz, former secretary of state, and R. James Woolsey, former CIA director

To have an impact on our vulnerabilities within the next decade or two, any competitor of oil-derived fuels will need to be compatible with the existing energy infrastructure and require only modest additions or amendments to it.

Although there are imaginative proposals for transitioning to other fuels, such as hydrogen to power automotive fuel cells, this would require major infrastructure investment and restructuring. If privately-owned fuel cell vehicles were to be capable of being readily refueled, this would require reformers (equipment capable of reforming, say, natural gas into hydrogen) to be located at filling stations, and for natural gas to be available there as a hydrogen feed-stock. So, not only would fuel cell development and technology for storing hydrogen on vehicles need to be further developed, but the automobile industry’s development and production of fuel cells also would need to be coordinated with the energy industry’s deployment of reformers and the fuel for them.

Moving toward automotive fuel cells thus requires us to face a huge question of pace and coordination of large-scale changes by both the automotive and energy industries. This poses a sort of industrial Alphonse and Gaston dilemma: who goes through the door first? (If, instead, it were decided that existing fuels such as gasoline were to be reformed into hydrogen on board vehicles instead of at filling stations, this would require on-board reformers to be developed and added to the fuel cell vehicles themselves — a very substantial undertaking.)

It is because of such complications that the National Commission on Energy Policy concluded in its December, 2004, report “Ending The Energy Stalemate” (“ETES”) that “hydrogen offers little to no potential to improve oil security and reduce climate change risks in the next twenty years.” (p. 72)

Senate 109–385. November 16, 2005. High costs of crude: the new currency of foreign policy.  U.S. Senate Hearing.    39 pages.

[ Much of the above, and in addition: ]

R. James Woolsey:

We should forget about 95 percent of our effort on hydrogen fuel cells for transportation.

Hydrogen fuel cells have real utility in niche markets for stationary uses. But the combination of trying to get the cost of these one-to-two-million-dollar vehicles that run on hydrogen down, at the same time one coordinates a complete restructuring of the energy industry so one has hydrogen at filling stations, and does a complete restructuring of the automotive industry so one has hydrogen fuel cells, is a many decades-long undertaking.



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