National Academies: Hydrogen Car Program Making Good Headway, But Outcome Still Uncertain
3 August 2005
Although its ultimate success is uncertain, the FreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research) and Fuel Partnership is making “significant headway” on its goals of developing hydrogen-fueled transportation, according to a new report by The National Academies’ National Research Council.
Many technical barriers remain and new inventions will be needed, but the program, launched three years ago, has already made an excellent start, according to the committee that wrote the report.
The FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership is a research collaboration among the U.S. Department of Energy, the Big Three automakers, and five major energy companies. The program includes the President's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative—initiated in 2003 to develop technologies for hydrogen production and distribution—and is a successor to the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a collaboration between federal agencies and automakers during the Clinton administration.
The goals of this program are extremely challenging and success is uncertain, but it could have an enormous beneficial impact on energy security and the U.S. economy. Although it is still too early to speculate whether the program will achieve its long-term vision, it is making significant headway.—Craig Marks, committee chair and retired vice president for technology and productivity, AlliedSignal
The long-term goal of the partnership is to develop technology that will help automakers decide by 2015 whether it is possible to manufacture and sell hydrogen-powered vehicles on a large scale. While pursuing this goals, the program is exploring technology that, in the short term, will provide more efficient and less polluting combustion engines, as well as electric batteries that could be used in hybrid vehicles with either fossil-fuel- or hydrogen-powered engines.
At this early stage, no insurmountable barriers to achievement of this vision have been identified, but several critical components of the program have been noted...In view of the large number of unknowns and the need for breakthroughs, the committee does not feel that it is appropriate or useful at this time to speculate on the probability of this program achieving its long-term vision according to its current plan. Funding levels and the consequent research results during the next few years should allow future reviews to make a more firmly based assessment.—Review of the Research Program of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership: First Report (2005)
The committee provides an overview of achievements and barriers, summarized as follows:
|Achievements and Barriers in the FreedomCAR Project|
|Barriers (near-term)||Barriers (long-term)|
Currently, short-term activities, such as research on advanced combustion engines and electric batteries, receive 30% of the program’s funding; long-term research on hydrogen energy technologies receives 70%.
This funding split is suitable, the committee said, although for the past two years Congress has appropriated significant portions of the overall funding for specific recipients and activities not focused on program goals. If this practice continues without an overall funding increase to compensate for it, timing milestones for the program will certainly slip, the committee said.
The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
Review of the Research Program of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership: First Report. A pre-print version is available for online reading now. The print version will be available later in the year, and for a fee.
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