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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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By H24U on 1/30/2010 8:18:23 PM , Rating: 2
This study is the biggest crock I have ever seen or read. I have been researching and developing hydrogen infrastructure for the last 20 years and have never heard such a preposterous unsubstantiated conclusion ever. I am also surprised it came from UC Davis.

This is obvious a bogus piece and request that in order for this periodical to remain credible in it's publishing that they print a retraction. Why?

Because the conclusion of the piece is impossible, chemically and physically. You can't create something from nothing. THERE IS NO CARBON IN THE PROCESS TO RELEASE IN THE FIRST PLACE! That is the whole idea of doing renewable/sustainable hydrogen at all. ZERO. That invalidates the study from the start. You can't make something from nothing. It's like saying there is a perpe6tual motion machine, or that you can get more energy out of something than exists. THAT'S SCIENTIFICALLY IMPOSSIBLE!

There is no carbon in the power generation (solar wind, wave, geothermal), there is no carbon in the feed stock - water! There is no carbon in the end use, especially with fuel cells. With ICE converted vehicles the only carbon is in the air. Just trace amounts from the oil. I know this because I have conducted FTP dynamometer emission tests on ICE converted vehicles. Smog testing can not pick up even trace amounts of carbon in the emissions which is why you can't get an ICE vehicle smogged in CA, because if the machine can't detect CO2 in the emissions. It fails because it assumes the catalytic converter is failing, thereby causing the test to read out as "failed". The test requires carbon emissions to pass. And Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) don't put out any CO2, CO, NOx, or any other emission because none can be processed, only potable water you can drink, the same thing that went into it. Thus the only 100% clean sustainable paradigm that exists! There is a line of Ph.D.s a mile long that will back me up on this.

This is a hatchet piece and this guy could and should loose his job at the university for this obvious hatchet job and biased study that is obviously false in it's premise. If he was talking about fossil fuel generation of hydrogen, then he might have a point, but no one is proposing that for anything but an interim process until the renewables can be built. Even the oil companies and industrial gas companies will confirm this.

It has to be under peer review. That is why periodicals like this must check into the validity of such conclusions of studies like this before publishing them. It only hurts your credibility for the future. This guy will be discredited upon a real peer review. It is all that can happen.

There are plenty of arguments that can be made (which can be debunked with science), and I have heard some doosies, but this takes the place. Even Joe Rohm wouldn't try making this claim, and he is the king of hatchet articles against hydrogen.

Paul Staples

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher

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