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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: I might care
By jhb116 on 1/1/2010 9:01:38 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed - I hope they included diesel-electric hybrids in their study. CA has shunned diesel for some time.

It seems that diesel-electric plug in's (and gasoline due to established infrastructure) should the focus for the near term - then next 20 or so years with the possibility of plug-ins down further out and Hydrogen longer term. The tech for Hydrogen is just not there. The tech and distribution isn't there for pure plug-ins either. We need to remember it took nearly a hundred years to develop the infrastructure we now rely upon. It will take many years to move away from that to some other form. Unless we start getting super efficient in our (US perspective) electricity usage - I don't believe our power grid can handle a huge increase in pure plug-ins. If pure plug-ins become the plan - then there needs to be an associated push to upgrade our power grid - which is probably due for an overhaul anyhow.

RE: I might care
By Hoser McMoose on 1/2/2010 10:13:10 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed - I hope they included diesel-electric hybrids in their study. CA has shunned diesel for some time.

California shunned diesel because air pollution has long been considered a huge problem and, until VERY recently (~2008) diesels produced SUBSTANTIALLY more air pollution per kilometre driven than gasoline engines did.

It's only with the latest and greatest "clean" diesel engines that they've got within the same realm as gasoline powered vehicles when it comes to air pollution. Even a 2006-era diesel, while much cleaner than the black-cloud belching diesels of the 1980's, would produce easily 2 to 5 times as more air pollution than gasoline vehicle. As an example, check the following link:

Compare the 2006 VW Golf diesel (1.9L I4) vs. something like a Ford Expedition humongous SUV with a 5.4L V8 gasoline engine. The Golf is rated for 3 times more NOx emissions and more than twice as much smog-forming pollution overall. Particulate matter (a carcinogen) is rated as being 4 times worse on the Golf vs. the Expedition.

California has pretty much always had the world's toughest air pollution laws and even the latest and greatest diesels only just barely squeak under the bar there. Europe has tended to lag WELL behind the U.S. in general, and California in particular, when it comes to air pollution laws which is part of the reason why diesels are so common there (the other reason being generally expensive fuel and a generally illogical taxation structure that heavily favours diesels). However as of Sept. 2009 the EU has FINALLY caught up to the U.S. rules on air pollution and really forced the hands of auto manufacturers to make their diesel's less dirty.

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