Between the various camps, just about everyone has started to realize that it's
time to figure out a new way to derive power – especially for vehicles.
Non-commercial vehicles account for 44 percent of the oil used in the United
States yearly. They also contribute 20 percent or more of the carbon dioxide
pollution produced nationally. Alternative energy sources for transportation
alone could put a huge dent in national oil consumption.
The government has even jumped into the pool now, having mandated an
investigation by the National Research Council on how we can get out of this
seemingly endless black hole of oil dependence and price gouging. The NRC's
conclusion? Hydrogen could do it for us. Only it may take half a lifetime to
accomplish – not something environmentalists and economists want to hear.
There are several problems with building a hydrogen economy. First, there is the
lack of infrastructure. How does the hydrogen get to consumers? Second,
hydrogen isn't exactly inexpensive to produce as needed for hydrogen fuel
cells. And since it involves using some amount of energy from some process,
it's likely being made by using “dirty” power somewhere. Third, the general
technology involved in hydrogen production and vehicles is not yet comparable
to gasoline and internal combustion vehicles as far as cost versus performance
On the subject of the latter, the NRC report states that though with continued
development the total hydrogen fleet might reach two million vehicles,
nationally, by 2020, it wouldn't be until approximately 2023 that the
technologies could compete on equal footing, economically. The government would
need to invest approximately $55 billion over the next 15 years, expecting
private investments of approximately $145 billion in the same time frame, to
push the evolving technology to that level. While those seem like big numbers,
they estimated that the yearly subsidy for ethanol fuels could reach as much as
$15 billion per year in that time. Two minutes with a pencil and paper can tell
you which of these will cost less in the long run.
After the new H vehicles become cost efficient, the NRC says, their population
would likely explode. By 2050 there could be as many as 200 million, replacing
a large portion of ICE-powered jalopies, thus cutting a noticeable swathe
through oil dependency and pollution rates.
Unfortunately, the report, titled “Transition to
Alternative Transportation Technologies: A Focus on Hydrogen,” is a
best-case scenario. They also include that the best way to go about making the
H economy a reality is not simply by snubbing oil and its dark miasma, but by
encouraging other forms of alternative energy and a continued push for gasoline
fuel efficiency while hydrogen technologies advance.
Overall, the future of hydrogen looks bright. Though the infrastructure will be
costly to implement, it seems to suffer less of a poor reputation than other
alternative fuels like biodiesel, which is being blamed for various economical
woes like the rising price of meats, grains and dairy products. Every other day
a new advance in fuel cell construction or efficiency surfaces and the media is
thick with hoopla about fuel cell vehicles from various manufacturers. The only
real problem the U.S. might really have if it were to make a concentrated
effort to convert to the cleaner economy is a lack of patience.