Today’s San Francisco Chronicle ran an article that fairly screams for commentary. In the story entitled “Honda Rolls Out the Future – A Car Powered by Hydrogen,” the reporter informs us of the following “But by one particular yardstick, the car is special — it doesn’t run on fossil fuel. Instead, a fuel cell car uses hydrogen.” That’s in paragraph two. A little further down, in paragraph nine, the truth comes out “The hydrogen can be refined from a number of sources, including coal, natural gas and methane.” Oops.
Further still in this report, reality comes out in a quote from David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington D.C., who says “We have to get a fuel cell vehicle that is durable and cheap enough,” Friedman said, “and make sure the hydrogen is clean enough. No one will cheer if, at the end of the day, we make all our hydrogen from coal and melt the planet.” Amen, Mr. Friedman.
At the end of the story comes a final quote, one that bears challenging “As for the economics, Honda Vice President Ben Knight said a fuel cell car can get the equivalent of a gasoline-powered car’s 65 miles per gallon. An FCX filled with 8.8 pounds of hydrogen can go about 270 miles, he said.”
This is only true if the car is fueled with hydrogen derived from fossil fuel. If instead the car uses “green” hydrogen, which requires green electricity to electrolyse the hydrogen by separating the hydrogen atom from H2O, then 40% of the energy in the electricity is lost. Therefore, such a car would get the equivalent of 39 MPG, which is what cars get already.
The problems with hydrogen are huge – it is very difficult to store, it is very difficult to distribute, it has to be made using fossil fuel (or made inefficiently using electricity), and the fuel cells use costly raw materials, they break easily and they degrade quickly. It is extremely unlikely we will ever have hydrogen fuel cell cars on the road in meaningful quantities.
The bottom line is this – as green energy, hydrogen is an electricity carrier. Hydrogen is only green if it is made from electricity (green electricity) using electrolysis, then converted back into electricity using a fuel cell. A better way to do this is via batteries. Even ultra-capacitors have a better chance of winning the electricity storage sweepstakes than hydrogen fuel cells. Read The Hydrogen Hoax for more information.