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Hydrogen vehicles aren't too eco-friendly in terms of carbon emissions, according to an in-depth new study.  (Source: Web Wombat)
Study indicates plug-ins feature a lower emissions life than gas vehicles, but hydrogen vehicles feature greater emissions

The hydrogen vehicle movement appears stalled.  The push to use the diatomic gas as auto fuel never exactly made it off the ground due to a lack of infrastructure -- production, distribution, and storage facilities.  However, for a time automakers like Toyota and Honda were pushing ahead with testing of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. 

Even this year, news leaked that GM was considering launching a commercial fuel cell vehicle in 2015, despite lack of support for the hydrogen movement from U.S. President Barack Obama.  However, of late, the big automakers like Toyota and Honda have backed off the effort to push hydrogen vehicles onto the market.

A new study might put another road block in front of the prospect of a near term commercial hydrogen vehicle release, while giving the plug-in vehicle movement a nice boost.  The study was authored by Ryan McCarthy at the University of California, Davis and published in the Journal of Power Sources. The ground-breaking study, entitled "Determining marginal electricity for near-term plug-in and fuel cell vehicle demands in California: Impacts on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions", examines the emissions impact of hydrogen and plug-in vehicles versus their gas counterparts.

Lowering carbon emissions to fight warming, along with high fuel prices and global-political instability, has been a key driving factor for the adoption of hybrids and alternative fuels.  The new study, though, judged hydrogen vehicles to be an utter failure at that objective, in their current state.  The study concluded, "All of the pathways except for [fuel cell vehicles] using hydrogen from electrolysis reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions compared to ICEs and [hybrid electric vehicles]."

It doesn't dissuade further research into hydrogen vehicles; it simply indicates they are unlikely to be ready for showtime anytime soon.  It points out that steam methane reforming is a promising emerging method of hydrogen production that may one day allow hydrogen driven vehicles to actually live up to their emissions promises.

In the near term, the study finds that plug-in electric vehicles are the best option in terms of lowering carbon emissions.  Despite using electricity mostly generated by "relatively inefficient steam- and combustion-turbine plants" the well-to-wheel carbon impact of EVs is still significantly lower than hybrids.

While by no means the definitive study on the topic, the new work does much to fill in the gap in knowledge about what exactly the true impact of green vehicles are.  While the topic of on-the-road emissions has been well researched, there's been much less progress in examining the full lifetime impact of vehicles.  Now, that lifecycle has been examined in depth and EV advocates can put another feather in their caps, while hydrogen advocates are once again handed another setback.

The study may play a crucial role in forming the policy of California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, an effort to reduce the carbon impact of transportation.  And given that President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency has embraced California's emissions policy, the new study could have a profound impact on the course of regulations and the auto market nationally, as well.



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RE: electrolysis...
By Alexvrb on 12/31/2009 10:15:48 PM , Rating: 2
Good. More coal for those of us that don't believe that the "science is settled".


RE: electrolysis...
By apcguru on 12/31/09, Rating: 0
RE: electrolysis...
By Hoser McMoose on 1/2/2010 10:55:18 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Good. More coal for those of us that don't believe that the "science is settled".

The science that coal produces a crapload of air pollution is ABSOLUTELY settled!

I'm not too horribly worried about greenhouse gas emissions but I absolutely think we should phase out coal power plants due to the horrendous quantities of air pollution they produce. (Aside: as I mentioned in another post, us in Ontario will NOT really phase out coal by 2014, let alone by 2007 as was originally promised).

What's most distressing is the sorry state of North America's coal plants. MOST (60-75% of them) don't even have scrubbers! This is 1970's era technology that STILL hasn't been implemented to this day on most of our plants. There's absolutely no excuse for that and we collectively pay BILLIONS in health care costs (either via taxes or raised health insurance premiums) because of it.

Exactly how much is tough to say, but by many estimates we pay as much in health care costs to deal with the pollution from coal power as we do for the power itself. For example, check out the following link:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/renewab...

They estimate the total cost of coal pollution at $64B per year, or 3.2 cents/kWh. That has NOTHING to do with global warming, climate change, etc. etc. This is just straight-up pollution that kills an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people per year in the U.S.


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