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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: All well and good, but...
By Hoser McMoose on 1/2/2010 11:11:00 AM , Rating: 2
they still require the use of gasoline engines and the battery goes bad in 5 years.

Batteries in electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids have tended to be designed for a minimum 10-year lifespan. The battery in the Toyota Prius and the Chevy Volt come with 8-year, 100,000 mile warranties on them.

As for the quantity of lithium out there, it's actually fairly abundant. We've barely scratched the surface of mining lithium because there has been so much of it vs. what we use. Keep in mind that even a fairly large Li-Ion battery uses only a pretty small quantity of lithium. Yes, inevitably it will run out eventually if we keep using it but in all probability Li-Ion batteries will be phased out in favour of something better LONG before that time.

In any case, the key problem with hydrogen is that it's only an energy storage mechanism, and not a very good one at that. The charge/discharge efficiency of a hydrogen fuel cell is currently down around 30% vs. better than 95% for a Li-Ion cell. The amount of wasted energy with hydrogen fuel cells makes them really impractical even if we could double that efficiency.

RE: All well and good, but...
By roostitup on 1/4/2010 6:12:43 AM , Rating: 2
They may have designed the batteries to last 10 years, but the Prius is having issues with batteries going bad just 5 years in. Just because they design them to last 10 years doesn't mean they will, it's all marketing.

No matter what you think, Lithium is still a limited resource that we cannot take for granted. We need to be concentrating on renewable resources and avoid the problems that oil/coal has given us. Lithium deposits are also only found in specific countries which happen to be unfriendly to the western societies (China, Bolivia, Venezuela & etc.) and will just leave us dependent on foreign owned resources. Everyone said the same thing about oil/coal in the beginning that you are saying about lithium and look where we are; no good replacement and running out fast.

Just because hydrogen is in its infancy still and not efficient doesn't mean that we should discredit it as a highly potential renewable energy source and stop doing research. There is still much work to be done. Judging by all the accomplishments that humans have done over the years, I have no doubts that hydrogen could be made to be a very efficient and have high potential to power most everything. Don't be such an pessimist!

RE: All well and good, but...
By Penti on 1/7/2010 11:12:12 PM , Rating: 2
Fuel cells still need a fairly large lithium ion battery to accompany it. So people please don't be retarded about batteries.

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