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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
Achievements
  • A number of enabling non-technical achievements such as the overall plan, the project teams, cost models, testing plans and the initiation of basic research programs.

  • A better understanding of low-temperature combustion in ICE and the processes that produce emissions.

  • Effective software for vehicle systems analysis.

  • Lowering of the cost of compressed hydrogen fuel cell systems from $275/kW in 2002 to $175 kW in 2004. (subject to validation).

  • Lowering the projected cost of baseline 25-kW Li-ion battery systems from $70/kW in 1999 to $48/kW in 2003.

  • Advances in longer-term technologies associated with fuel cells, onboard storage and electrochemical energy storage. (None, unfortunately, a needed breakthrough.)

Barriers (near-term)Barriers (long-term)
  • Affordable lightweight, high-strength materials.

  • Improvements in the thermal efficiency of ICEs with concurrent reductions in emissions and particulates.

  • Lower cost, more compact electrochemical energy storage.

  • Lower cost, more compact electric drive motors and power electronics.

  • Hydrogen production technologies and infrastructure for potential transition to a widespread system featuring hydrogen as the fuel for transportation.

  • The infeasibility of widespread and affordable hydrogen.

  • Cost of fuel cells. The current projection (not including hydrogen storage) is about $125/kW—roughly four times the cost goal of $30/kW.

  • Performance of fuel cells. (Long start-up times, damage in subfreezing temperatures, slow transition times from idle to full power, short operational life).

  • “At this point, virtually everything associated with the production, distribution and onboard storage of hydrogen for personal transportation use faces significant barriers.”

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.

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August 3, 2005 in Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Research | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)

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Freedom Car = (200mpg - 500mpg) plug-in hybrid

We have the technology to do this today...

Does anyone have a good reason why we are not doing this right now, or atleast supporting its commercial development.

Please, I have been looking for a valid arguement for why we are doing this and I haven't been able to find one yet.

Only reason I've ever heard that makes any sense is that the government will be able to tax hydrogen the same way they currently tax gasoline. If we get plug in hybrids and start charging them off our solar panels, the government loses that revenue. Thus the hydrogen economy.

Hmmm, I posted a comment earlier but it seems to have gotten lost.

I think the problem is that plug-in hybrids are seen as a "bridge" technology with a limited lifetime, a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It's crazy to have both an internal combustion engine and an electrical engine in the car, along with fuel tanks AND batteries, a fueling system for the gas and a charging system for the electricity. It's an engineering monstrosity.

And it's not sustainable for the future. As gas gets more expensive, the ICE becomes dead weight. Plug in hybrids are not a long term solution, they are a kludge that can at best carry us over the next few years.

Research money is going towards long term solutions, either hydrogen, or all electric vehicles, or biofuels. Each one has major challenges. The government likes to fund long term research because the feeling is that industry will do OK on short term projects.

If plug in hybrids are going to succeed, it will be in the market or not at all. If they achieve their high mileage, if battery prices can come down, if people are willing to plug them in (and put in the special electrical meters necessary for the low rates), then they can be very profitable and companies like Toyota and Honda will go for them. These companies are in it to make a buck and if PUHs make business sense, they will succeed.

But as a short term solution I don't think we will see serious government support, although there is plenty of ongoing research on batteries which could help PUHs to be more competitive if it pans out.

Well dont forget a hydrogen car will generaly be an electric car too;/ Just with a smaller battery pack. I expect many hydrogen cars will be plug ins. The battery providing short range the fuel cell recharging the battery when it gets below such and such a charge ...

Good post Hal,
The fact that the govt is into funding more long term solutions instead of short term solutions is probably the best explanation that I have heard.

I think with the number of hybrids that are and will be sold in the next year there will be enough of a market to create economies of scale for either toyota, honda, or a third party to offer a retrofit to make it a plug-in hybrid similar to the Prius+ car.

I know the govt offers a small tax incentive for purchasing a hybrid, but I think they also offer tax incentives for small businesses to buy SUVs. I just think Plug-in hybrids could be a near term help for our dependence on foriegn oil. It would be nice if our govt put some more support behind it.

Hopefully my next car will be a Plug-in Hybrid Prius for around $30K. That would be worth it for me to get 100-120mpg.

Actauly on the suv front when my friend upgraded all his fleet to suvs from old vans his fuel bill fell by 2/3rds. And the suvs carry more stuff then the vans did are more powerful and have ac;/ Very useful in 110 degree weather:) Mind you these are specialy purchased suvs with racks in the back to carry a ton a litteral TON of fitings and tools and whatnot.

In 1903 there was a government financed program to build to first airplane. A couple of brothers using their income from a small business succeeded when the government was an utter failure. I wonder if a zinc fuel cell business will sneek up with a practical system on the market well before hydrogen is even close.

Hal and fuel cell advocates; The hydrogen fuel cell car is a complete hoax. GM has no intention of mass producing any version of their preposterous AUTOnomy prototypes, which compound the complications of hydrogen and the fuel cell, by adding the extremely dangerous 'drive-by-wire' propulsion and the equally unreliable and high maintenance 'in-wheel' electric motors. Good grief!

The Plug-in Hybrid has many advantages that a fuel cell car cannot duplicate, including a reliable home-power supply, invaluable safety features and fleet applications that an 'ultra-light' fuel cell car cannot match.

Long-term, the Hybrid still wins the contest for the best technology by far. And for those who like bio-diesel fuel, you'll need a Hybrid IC engine to burn bio-diesel most efficiently.

I'll be delighted to make an early speculation: "The hydrogen fuel cell is NOT a practical technology. Period!"

I've seen speculations on a concept vehicle that is a sort of a cross between AUTOnomy and a plug in hybrid. It would have a diesel engine whose only function was to generate electricity to charge the on-board batteries. It could also connect to your house and provide power to the house in case of blackouts or other temporary outages. Like AUTOnomy the car would be drive by wire with in hub motors and regenerative braking. This was in Peter Huber's book, The Bottomless Well.

I think these features make a lot of sense, once the cost comes down for the motors. All that weight involved in the crankshaft and transmission would disappear. And the diesel engine can be tuned to run in one speed and power regime so it will be much more efficient than what we have today.

The main problem is that by the time this technology is ready it's not clear there will be economical diesel fuel available to run the engine. The only alternatives then would be biodiesel, hydrogen fuel cells, or pure electric vehicles charged from the grid. Any of these approaches is probably going to involve electric motors for power in the car, and my guess is that in wheel motors will eventually win out.

Agree that our ultimate vehicle is going to employ electricity, probably using in-wheel motors. Also agree that a fuel cell vehicle is at heart an electric vehicle. But on the best investment between developing a battery/hybrid electric vehicle and a fuel cell vehicle for the future? One requires development of a viable battery technology, or maybe I should say "improvement of" since battery technology is already well on its way.

The other, a viable FCV, also depends on battery improvements (although not as robust as a complete BEV), but also faces all of the barriers noted in the report above in addition to requiring billions of dollars of infrastructure, and introduces a host of new safety issues including how these vehicles are going to fare as they age in the real world.

If you were being forced to bet your own life savings between one of these two options, which would you put your money on?

One difficult hurdle for BEVs is that we probably won't be able to get around having to wait at least 2-3 hours for a full battery recharge, due to the tremendous surges in electric demand that would occur from quick-charging. But adding a 2-cylinder biodiesel that recharges the battery as you drive could address this, probably extending the battery's range to at least a full day's driving before requiring a recharge (we have to sleep sometime, right?). Another nice feature of this approach is that the engine could continue to run after you parked the vehicle, recharging the battery while you stopped for lunch, say.

This recharging hurdle is probably why future vehicles will be some form of hybrid rather than pure BEV. Still, as others continually note, most of this technology already exists today and is much less costly than hydrogen and fuel cells for the foreseeable future.

The resistance to pursuing such an approach lies more in the inevitable shakeup that will occur to existing big industry than in any lack of technical merit or commercial viability. As always, follow the money.

You know what makes me laugh most... for years people complain that politicos dont have a vision and dont take risks by going for long term goals and dont accpet a higher cost yet BETTER approach to the future.. and then bush does that with hydrogen and everyone bitches and moans that hes not thinking short term enough and that his ideas are more expensive and less down to earth than simply ripping out a few 10s of millions of acers of wildlands and replacing them with fuel farms as far as the eye can see...

I never thought id see the day liberals were for the mass extermination of wildlife and conservatives were for a more expensive pie in the sky fuel. NOT because its cheaper. Not because its easyer to impliment. NOT because its gona support the current infrastructures of big bussiness that cost them trillions to build... Simply because it would be damn cool if we manage it and alot easyer to control pollution wise if we did too as the pollution is source only not destination.

Wintermane, could you give me the source of your information that liberals now favor eliminating wildlife habitat. I smell a right-wing propagandist behind your recent postings.

Oh simple some nitwits kept saying its better to go full bio fuel of course neglecting to mention just how huge an amount of land/ocean would need to be farmed to generate that much biofuel.

They know full well that its very unlikely even current levels of framing will prevail after global warmings gentle carress and they plan to depend on a huge increase in farming? Excuse me as I wonder what they plan to kill off to get that much farming going...

Technically, we could probably build a nuclear-powered car with six thousand horsepower and not have ANY emissions, and what's more a single fueling would likely last the life of the vehicle. Obviously, just because something is technically possible doesn't automatically make it the best approach. The problem in the current environment is we're attempting to select a winner without honestly evaluating the BEST among competing alternatives.

If we can drop the political defensiveness for a moment for a more objective viewpoint, one can quickly see that hydrogen is not the BEST choice among competing alternatives. The very same benefits boasted for the hydrogen economy can be attained much more quickly and cheaply through plug-in hybrid technology.

Regarding the potential use of biofuels, see Thomas Friedman's editorial in today's (Aug. 5) NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/05/opinion/05friedman.html?.

Just thought I'd follow up with the perspectives of a few more of the "nitwits" referenced above. The following quote is from a paper by George Schultz, Reagan's Secretary of State, and James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA, presented to the Committee on Present Danger about how our oil dependency makes the country extremely vulnerable:

"A plug-in hybrid averaging 125 mpg, if its fuel tank contains 85 percent cellulosic ethanol, would be obtaining about 500 mpg. If it were constructed from carbon composites, the mileage could double, and, if it were a diesel and powered by biodiesel derived from waste, it would be using no oil products at all . . . What are we waiting for?"

Admittedly, these guys are widely known as raging liberals but one of the downsides of a democracy is that everyone gets to state their opinion, whether or not the other side wants to hear it.

I still don't think it makes that much sense to compare plug-in hybrids with hydrogen vehicles. The time frames are completely different. Hydrogen is a potential long term solution, 20 years away at least. Plug-in hybrids are a short term solution that could be deployed today.

Generally the long term solutions are considered to be plug-in electric vehicles; biofuel power; or hydrogen powered vehicles. You can also conceive of hybrids of two or more of these, which I will say more about below.

For the electric vehicle case, keep in mind that there are significant infrastructure costs involved in any large scale use. The existing electrical infrastructure is already strained. New generating plants and transmission lines would have to be built at an unprecedented rate. Everything would have to be beefed up. It would be an enormous increase in our electrical usage to power a substantial part of our transportation needs off the grid.

Of course the same is true for the other solutions as well. Hydrogen needs a whole new infrastructure for production, piping, storage and pumping; and biofuels will require as wintermane points out enormous investments in new crops, new cropland and new technologies to process them into fuels.

From the long term perspective, what we think of today as a PUH is essentially a hybrid of the biofuels and plug-in electric vehicle technologies. Most of the energy would come from the electric grid, so we have to beef up the electrical grid infrastructure almost as much as for pure EVs. But then, we also have to build up the biofuel or hydrogen transport infrastructure to refuel the vehicles when necessary. Maybe this will somehow work out to be the cheapest or most convenient solution but on paper it looks like it combines two forms of costs without necessarily providing corresponding benefits.

You're right. Plug-in hybrids are a short term solution. But they're also a long term solution if we adapt them to biofuels. The term "biofuels" is much broader than simply corn-based ethanol, a point that doesn't seem to be that well understood.

It's not necessarily correct that the electrical infrastructure would need to be beefed up to accomodate large scale adoption of plug-in hybrids. The existing capacity is really only strained at peak, which is to say on a day like it is out there today. We have vast amounts of spare electrical capacity at night.

What has to be avoided is any significant contribution to peak load from people trying to charge their vehicles during peak load periods. The easiest way to accomplish this is peak load pricing. If it was going to cost you ten times as much to recharge your car during the 4-5 hours of peak as during other periods (especially overnight), probably no further modifications to the electric infrastructure would be necessary at all. Everyone would immediately understand, you charge your car at night.

With a biodiesel setup like I mentioned earlier, you could also always refill the tank at any time and it would recharge your battery without having to plug in and pay the high cost. So your car could be fully recharged whenever you got off work. Or, in the rare emergency, you could just bite the bullet and pay the daytime charge. Note that even in this case, you'd likely only be paying what many people are already paying today to fill up their SUVs (what, $50-60?).

The general point here is, whatever barriers people think up to a plug-in hybrid scenario are trivial to solve compared to the challenges still facing the hydrogen economy, as clearly documented in the NRC study above. I'm always curious why so many people want to believe we can jump over the moon when it comes to hydrogen and fuel cells but think we can't even get around the block with hybrids.

Um excuse me whay would the government need to do much of anything about plug in hybrids when hybrids are already being supported in the current plan and adding a blasted plug to one isnt exactly brain surgery?

We dont need to fund the short term because we already are funding it through tax breaks...

As for bio fuels your still not telling me where the hell you expect to get all the land for that ethenol production and why you think somehow american farmers who grow plants for ethenol will be magicaly immune to the chaos the climate shift is GARANTEED to create...

Wont it just be lovely if we go biofuels heavy and then find out the new climate prvents us from growing any of it...

send me ethenol production project report

I have Idia Making H2 for Fual prblam.
it is i think Easy way.

i am a student in diploma year 1 st . I am working to make a sports car on hydrogen fual cell thchnology. so please help me and send a yours idea in my project.
yours faithfully
sambhaji jadhav

Seems to me the only problem we are having in using any type of alternetive energy is the system we have in collecting taxes. I for one know someone has to pay for our roads, and solar,hydrogen and whatever is out there will not suceed without a new way of collecting taxes. Find a way to collect taxes on millage instead per gal, and see allternive fuels come out of the woodwork Ed.R

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