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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 Leomania on 1/5/2010 4:59:23 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks for your well-written posts. Not everyone manages to keep their cool through that many exchanges.

One thing I'd like to comment on is:
2. I didn't say anything was wrong about buying hybrid cars if you can afford it. I was stating an overwhelming truth about people who buy hybrids do so for the image of being green. There is no need to scare the public, the Car companies will sell you the image of being green to sell the car.

The "overwhelming" part isn't valid, at least not among the people I know who own hybrids (myself included). I cared not one iota about image, and no one I know does either. In my case, I sold a car that got less than half the mileage of a hybrid that traveled 50 miles round trip each day, simply to reduce the amount of fossil fuel I used. My financial calculus indicated that I would be unlikely to recoup my investment even at $5/gallon (which it was not long after I bought the car), but I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do. My Prius is 2nd generation, so although I'm not truly an early adopter, that also fed into my decision. Same as it did when I put solar on my roof in 2002.

Yeah, it's nice to be in a position to have enough spare buckazoids to make a call like that; not everyone can. But prices on the solar have come down markedly since I bought, and I expect the same will occur for hybrid technology. In the end, I have met my fossil fuel reduction goals without any significant inconvenience and I have a car that has proven to be amazingly reliable. I fully expect to drive it to 200K miles.

But image had nothing to do with it.

RE: I might care
By Kurz on 1/6/2010 11:43:29 PM , Rating: 2
I wish I could edit the Overwhelming part to 'Significant'. I know quite a few people on / who don't drive a Hybrid for the image.

Still from Prius' I see on the road they tend to be jerks since most get a Hybrid for the HOV lane in Wash DC.
So I guess the HOV gave the Regular Joe an Excuse to jump on the Hybrid Bandwagon. Though at least they are paving the way for the Technology.

The Prius is not a Bad car in fact I would jump on it if it had a stick shift. Though if a nice sized Hybrid (Not the Insight Gen 1) would come out in a manual transmission I'll jump on it in a second. I think with the New CR-Z I might have to, I just wish it were a plug-in.

Sorry about bashing hybrids and their owners in general.
Not sure where I was going with that one.

But thank you for the Praise.

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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