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EIA: PHEV40s Could Come Close to Matching Energy and Emissions Benefits of Fuel Cell Vehicles

Full fuel cycle CO2 emissions for PHEV40s and FCVs with 2x (top) and 3x (bottom) baseline fuel economy, under different H2 production scenarios. Click to enlarge.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has published an analysis of the impacts on US energy import dependence and emission reductions resulting from the commercialization of advanced hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in the transportation and distributed generation markets.

Among its findings, the report concludes that successful deployment of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) is dependent on several concurrent R&D successes and investments within the next 25 years. At the same time, other promising technologies such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) offer opportunities for major reductions in petroleum use and CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles (LDVs).

The development of a large market for hydrogen-powered light-duty fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) would likely require a major financial commitment by industry and government. The ultimate success of that market will depend on the ability to overcome significant technical and infrastructure challenges. Competition from other promising new vehicle technologies, such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that could run on electricity from the grid for 50 to 80 percent of their travel, as well as continued improvement in more conventional technologies, make the prospect of widespread use of hydrogen FCVs an even greater challenge. Nonetheless, if the challenges can be met, FCVs powered with hydrogen can provide considerable reductions in light-duty vehicle (LDV) energy demand and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2050.

EIA produced the report, “The Impact of Increased Use of Hydrogen on Petroleum Consumption and Carbon Dioxide Emissions”, in response to a request by US Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who is a strong Congressional supporter of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

To provide a comparison of the potential energy and CO2 emissions impacts of PHEVs and FCVs, EIA analyzed the impact of the successful development of a PHEV with a 40-mile electric range. EIA assumed that the PHEV would use gasoline in its engine, and achieve approximately 50 mpg in hybrid mode, and approximately 130 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent in all-electric mode. It also assumed that approximately 50% of annual PHEV travel will be in all-electric mode.

In neither the PHEV or the FCV cases is market penetration sufficient to make a significant energy impact by 2030. By 2050, however, projections of LDV energy use (at the point of use—i.e., the LDV fleet level—not primary energy use) indicate that PHEVs could provide energy reductions commensurate with those projected under similar FCV scenarios—and assuming a 3X fuel economy improvements on the FCV side.

In the PHEV scenario, total LDV energy demand is reduced by 5.4 quadrillion Btu (26.3 percent), as compared with 3.0 quadrillion Btu (14.8 percent) in the fuel cell with AEO2008 reference fuel economy scenario and 7.2 quadrillion Btu (35.3 percent) in the fuel cell with 3X fuel economy scenario. Although reductions in petroleum demand are projected across the scenarios, the PHEV scenario reduces petroleum demand by 38.0 percent (7.1 quadrillion Btu) relative to the reference case, while a 68.5-percent reduction (12.9 quadrillion Btu) is projected in the FCV scenarios. In the PHEV scenario, electricity demand in 2050 is increased by 2.5 quadrillion Btu compared to the reference case.

...Relative to the FCV scenarios that assume AEO2008 reference case fuel economy improvement, the PHEV scenarios project full fuel cycle CO2 emission reductions in 2050 that are similar to those achieved in the hydrogen production scenarios considered. In the PHEV scenario with AEO2008 reference case generation mix, total CO2 emissions are reduced by 165 million metric tons CO2 equivalent (8.5 percent) in comparison with the reference case in 2050... In comparison, the reductions projected in the FCV scenarios that assume the transition of hydrogen production to centralized natural gas SMR or coal with CCS, where CO2 emissions are 3.9 percent and 20.9 percent, respectively. If the generation mix projected in the S.2191 high cost scenario were achieved, CO2 emissions from PHEVs would be reduced by 30.9 percent (601 million metric tons CO2 equivalent relative to the reference case in 2050, comparable to the reductions projected in the most optimistic fuel cell scenarios with 2X fuel economy improvement.

...If fuel cell vehicles achieve 3X fuel economy improvement...then projected full fuel cycle CO2 emission reductions for all the hydrogen production scenarios exceed those projected in the PHEV scenario with the AEO2008 reference case utility mix. The projected emissions reductions for the PHEV scenario with the S.2191 high cost scenario utility mix exceed the reductions projected for the natural gas SMR FCV scenario.

While deployment of FCVs and a hydrogen infrastructure could results in considerable reductions in energy demand and full fuel cycle CO2 emissions, the report notes, the development of a large market for hydrogen-powered LDVs probably will require a massive financial commitment by industry and government and, ultimately, will hinge on success in fuel cell R&D. The key findings from this analysis are:

  • It is highly unlikely that hydrogen FCVs will have significant impacts on LDV energy use and CO2 emissions by 2030.

  • Depending on fuel economy improvement and rate of market penetration, hydrogen FCVs could reduce petroleum demand in 2050 by 37.1 to 84.1%.

  • Depending on the method of hydrogen production, full fuel cycle CO2 emissions in 2050 could be reduced by 2.0 to 63.8%, depending on the market penetration scenario.

  • Under similar market penetration assumptions, successful development of a PHEV-40 could provide significant reductions in petroleum use; however, the maximum reductions in petroleum use would be less than those projected in the most aggressive FCV scenarios.




So, after a quick (sorry) read;
1. If we have a massive financial commitment by industry and government (which is less likely than everyone deciding to buy the smallest LDV they can get by with), and
2. If all the technical hurdles are overcome to achieve a practical FCV with double the efficiency now achievable,
Then the FCV will be no better than a PHEV using todays proven technology.
Hydogen RIP

Roger Pham

Hydrogen does not need to be more efficient than PHEV to make it viable. Heavy Duty applications and larger vehicles will need H2, whereas smaller vehicles can do fine with battery electricity.

Once petroleum is running scarce, we will need another fuel to replace it, and H2 will be a good replacement. The question is not whether FCV's or PHEV's, but both PHEV's,(or BEV) and H2-Vehicles will co-exit just fine. No need to choose one vs. the other. And don't discount advanced H2-ICE, either. With ultralean and ultra rapid combustion, H2-ICE (for HEV's) can promise significant efficiency improvement over existing ICE, without the uncertainty of FC's cost.

The cost of H2 infrastructure is incremental and can be amortized over long period of time. It will be a lot less than the $700 billions USD spent on importing petroleum yearly at this time. The environmental benefit will be priceless!!! Reduction in respiratory illness, cancers, Global Warming, petrol-related violence in the world, etc...When are we going to take the plunge to the eventual H2 economy?


These must be very clever people to make predictions about the human know-how of 2050.


The plunge is the problem. I am not so confident that it can evolve into autos without a big plunge.
If ships and Heavy Duty apps do not need the huge infrstructure they might go H2, but that may not help bring H2 to the LDV market.
$700 billion per year is staggering but as each year passes without a major energy push on all fronts, it gets harder to afford the plunge. There may likely never be a good time to take the big plunge.
The other measures included in "all of the above" actually can be implemented incrementally and cause H2 to remain the hope of the future, at least for the LDV.


The "hydrogen economy" is one that ensures that a consumer stays a consumer. Not for me, thanks! I'd rather invest/place solar panels on my roof, offset the charge of a full BEV in the evening, and be a producer of my own energy. Why keep going to the "pump"? Really, why?

I said it before in another ABG post, and it still rings true to me today.

Ask yourself this question...
What meduim to propel our cars is most efficient? Hydrogen (as an energy carrier) is not that medium and the inefficient ICE that burns any type of fuel should be seen as it truely is, inefficient and a dog leash to Big Auto, Oil, Government.


Where will the energy come from to produce this hydrogen?


The problem with predictions of market penetration is that they tend to rely on "official" oil price forecasts from the Energy Information Administration. That is understandable as there are no other particularly credible "official" sources, but the EIA has been completely wrong in its forecasts for the past decade. They utterly failed to foresee the rapid rise in oil prices which has occurred since 1999, and even now they are predicting that oil will not be much more expensive 20 or 30 years in the future than it is today. If Peak Oil theory has even a germ of truth to it, and we are not able to massively expand oil production to match increased Chinese and third world demand, oil prices are going to be far higher than in EIA scenarios. In that case market forces will be far stronger than studies like this predict, and we will see much greater penetration of technologies that reduce oil consumption. Without good models of future oil prices, we are really in the dark about what is going to happen with replacement technologies.


It seems that they underestimate a few factors :
- biofuels contribution can be more than they forecast
- 50MPG with advance material and aerodynamic as well as engine and engine a PHEV in gazoline mode will do better in 2050 since we are already there today.
- Contributions of fully elctric vehicle is not taken into account.
- contribution of elctrified public transportation is not taken into account
- Development of alternative vehicle like electric scooter, e.bike, Tango, Venture but also bike car but also bike is not taken into account (in Danemark 30% of city transportation are made by bike)

But that's ineteresting anyway and confirm my feeling that the future of H2 economy sounds shaky. Another factor to tkae into account is the debt problem in US that will plague the first half of this centuy. 47Trillions US$ (4 times the GDP) of debt and liabilities leave little room for an investment in H2 economy very little.

Kit P

“Not for me, thanks! I'd rather invest/place solar panels on my roof, ...”

That would make kook43 a consumer of PV panels and batteries. An investor would calculate the payback period or ROR and compare it to other choices.


Other things

They forgot to analyses the EROI figure of each case and that is really essential before developping massively an new form of energy. My understanding is that the EROI of H2 is bad and the EROI of nuclear is soso, so H2 from nuclear is terrible.

Also they assume in the PHEV that the gazoline cumsumption in 2050 will be more than 2/3 of 2005, that is imply massive CTL, since oil production will have been reduced by more than 50% in 2050

Lou Grinzo

Sorry for pushing my own site, but I just posted about the ongoing saga of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles yesterday over on The Cost of Energy (http://www.grinzo.com/energy/):


Dan A

This whole argument of PHEV/BEV vs FCV is completely misguided IMO. The two have completely different advantages that make them useful for different purposes. It's pretty clear now that PHEVs and BEVs will be the principle drivetrain of future light vehicles, but that doesn't mean fuel cells aren't crucial. In uses such as buses, trains, construction/farm equipment, etc, batteries have doesn't have the necessary energy density or a quick enough refueling time to be anything approaching practicality. In these uses, hydrogen will compete with biofuels, and could very likely be competitive.


If you realy look closely you will note that alot of these plans have no "messy" bits. No wars no plagues no famines no drastic and unstoppable climate changes.. no rogue nations wanting climate change..

But what do the REAL plans include? How does that effect the outcomes?

Tell me what would be the impact of oh say a rise in co2 levels to.. 1000 ppm and say a 15c rise in temps?

What would happen if india fell? If africa fell? If south america fell? If a world power fell? If they all fell?

What happens if global oil supply is in fact a lie and it falls like a brick 5-10 years from now?

What happens if there is a nuke war?

Alot of these plans for phev 40 and for ev and biofuels all DEPEND on the world staying stable long enough. The world isnt stable it sure as hell wont remain even remotely stable for long.


Hi Wintermane

You make a point indeed, as I said, given the current domestic debt of US and the difficulty for this country to find new lenders in the futur will make the H2 economy an extremely unlikely dream. US people think they are rich but they are not, America import 60% of its oil and has cumulated an unprecedented debt (49 Trillions US$)that has been growing at an accelerated pace under Bush administration and low interest rate policy. The feast is over, war and debt are inflationary, inflation means stagnating economy and generalised impoverishment for the decades to come.Welcome to america.


It would be interesting to see what would happen with PHEV10, 20 as well as 40.
We probably won't seem many Phev40's for a while due to the battery cost, but we could see 10's and 20's first.

The trick, then is to get as much as possible out of a smaller battery Phev, by using the electric power optimally, and by being able to charge at non-home destinations, such as workplaces and car parks.

As I have said before, a simple coin operated power meter would be enough. If you were able to charge at work, it would increase your battery life and range of the vehicle.
Thus, you might have 3 charges / day - a night one when you are home, and a day one at work / shopping.

Ideally, you could optimize the timing of the charges to do some load balancing. The night time should be easy enough, just wait till 1am.
The day time would be more subtle, but perhaps the amounts of power would be quite low and we could just top the battery up - the heavy lifting would be done at night.


The upside to this report is that if we wait for demonstrable improvements in fuel cell systems ie a 3X efficiency in the FC, storage and supply options falling into place etc there will be little or no penalty.

I think we have reason to be optimistic on the first front, developments in power delivery seem on track.
Storage issues relating to handling (large amounts) of very high pressure and or cryogenic temperatures are well understood as being an 'impossible' ask as the energies required alone make for well understood inefficiencies the scale of which we have never dealt with successfully in the past.

If the US were able to construct a supply system given the previous technical issues, of a scale required to sustain the transport needs at the present level, through technical and economic willpower, It would be doing so pretty well on its own with expectation of collaboration from some advanced European economies.

Given that this Hydrogen can't simply be dug or pumped from the ground, there are very real constraints to production n an energy constrained world.

To put it simply, no matter how desirable the end result, the environment in which this program is expected to take place is decidedly unfriendly.

As is appropriate in such circumstances - Hasten Slowly.

PHEVS have many benefits as a technology gateway and keep a foot in each camp as far as skilling tradespersons and designers.

There are more tan a few parallel technology streams electric motors, power handling, electronic control and electronics, batteries, eventually replacing the way too complicated and dirty ice engines with cleaner fuels eventually fuel cells.

Given this all takes time, it stands to reason that the infrastructure possibilities will increase and develop in niche applications that may enable mass deployment.


I suspect where h2 will get its first lift will be in long distance trucking and busses. As soon as h2 can push a truck cheaper then fossil fuels can.. and from bus tests thats dang close or even here already they will start planning the switch. And the great thing about a pressure tank is the wider the radius the MUCH more fuel it holds.. an 18 wheeler can use 2 VERY large tanks and they do indeed make standard 50 kg 5000 psi h2 tanks...

100 kg even in a fairly simple fuel cell can generate nearly 2 mwh of power. And the tanks arnt all that heavy... meanwhile to store a usable 2 mwh would take a gargantuan battery.

I also suspect alot of sports cars and suvs and light trucks will go h2 simply because in 20 years for them its h2 or NOTHING. After all the batteries needed to move say a f450 pickup around would push its weight to over the light duty limit. Same with suvs.. and a sports car? Well yes tesla sorta managed the roadster.. but most sports car drivers are going to want an ICE engine and vroom vroom.. in 20 years thats gona be biogas biofuel or h2. I doubt even e20 or b20 will even exist 20 years from now as we clamp down on co2. And I doubt they will allow over say 60 g/km of co2. I doubt the ability to make a sports car that can handle that with anything other then h2 ice.. in an ice format.


The projection isn't based on technology, it's based on what folks will buy. Wouldn't you rather fuel your car at home? Wouldn't you rather keep your hands clean while refueling?


I suspect people are being a little too quick to write off battery powered road haulage.

Is everyone forgetting the technology already exists for 10 min battery recharge? Although it is not yet commercially developed and the energy density is not quite tops. 10 min recharge is a potential game changer.

EU in particular has very strict requirements for driving hours. As trucks could be recharged at every rest stop (especially on fixed routes) the required battery pack size is significantly reduced.

Smith industries in the UK has already demonstrated the the applicability of EV's for low end and mid range haulage. IMO if energy density can improve (to say +200 wh/kg), EV's can move up to 40ft container size. Range would be limited to the EU regulated drive period between rest stops.

Yes, I am aware some industrial scale charging infrastructure would be required. It's technically feasible and it has already been done for battery packs of the magnitude I am suggesting.

I'd be interested if any smart folks could crunch the detail numbers (in the EU scenario). I only did some rough calc's with limited info'.


Meanwhile the first practical BEV is on the road - and the 40 Mile production Volt starts road trials in four months. There is a nice competition between H2 FC and BEV automobiles. The status quo oilers want H2 FCs. The status quo electric utilities want the BEV. A clash of titans?

Who cares really. EVs are on the way and companies making them are going to have an enormous new market. The real wildcard is that curious technology that breaks nuclear bonds in water with nothing more than finely tuned... resonance.


The only H2 infrastructure that makes sense is this:

- Hydrogen is produced by nuclear power plants from ocean water, distribution networks are then necessary
- A hybrid power grid will consist of a pipeline for supercooled H2 and a high-capacity electricity distribution grid made up of superconducting materials
- H2 is used for energy storage (excess solar stored as H2 and used overnight), in industrial settings, and for critical use public vehicles (fire, police, construction, farm) or delivery vehicles and other vehicles that need to be constantly in motion.

This avoids using "dirty" methods of making H2 like coal or natural gas that result in H2 producing a CO2 problem where none should exist.

This solves the current problem of electricity grid losses which currently amount to around 7%.

This allows energy produced in remote areas (from any source, wind or solar or nuclear) to be brought without excess losses to populated areas where it is needed. This solves the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) problem for power plants and promotes wind and solar.

Personal use vehicles should be battery-electric (BEV) only. Natural gas and bio-fuel PHEVs can form a bridge toward this goal but BEV must be the ultimate goal for our transportation needs. It is the most efficient and least polluting.

This scenario provides the utmost efficiency, encourages responsible community development, frees us from our dependence on foreign oil, promotes optimal use of alternative sources of energy where they reside (the midwest for wind and the southwest for solar) and reduces energy loss that our current energy grid cause.


OK, I give in; there are a lot of knowledgeable people who believe in H2, so (like with AGW) it's not simple but there must be solid science there. But let’s give that tired old rant that there are no impartial scientists, only warring factions (like big oil/big 3 and the electric companies) a rest. Just because you don’t understand it or like it, does not mean Lex Luther is behind it.
But what about the synth-fuels for aircraft? Might they be developed to be economical for cars, more gracefully than creating the H2 infrastructure?
Also there seems to be a perception that today’s H2 tanks scale up really well. Wall thickness must go up with diameter because the hoop stress equals pressure times diameter.

John Taylor

So they notice the EXISTING second rate technology makes the "someday to be developed" Hydrogen highway into an obsolete boondoggle.

Yet they STILL push for public money to be sloshed into this open sewer of bad intentions.

My bets are on the Electric Vehicle, and I have seen and ridden in one in action. This is our future.

fred schumacher

Re: battery powered heavy duty vehicles.

I did crunch the numbers once on large field tractors and Class 8 truck tractors, and, based on Tesla car lithium-ion battery weight and cost, came up with a weight of 50,000 pounds of battery and $1,000,000 for a 4-wheel drive tillage tractor, and 36,000 pounds and $700,000 for a truck tractor. This is based on the kilowatt-hours for a 10 to 12 hour workday with no refueling and some reserve. The cost could come down, but the weight not much. It's the weight that's the problem.

Re: hydrogen vehicles

Besides the inefficiencies of the fuel production, delivery and storage systems, the complexity, weight, cost, marginal low temperature functionality, and difficult recyclability of fuel cells, there's another major problem that rarely gets discussed. Fuel cells produce low temperature water vapor, which will turn roads into skating rinks whenever road temperatures are below freezing. This will be black ice, the worst type.


A PHEV seems to me to be the mechanical equivalent of the beefalo, an animal having the worst, not best, characteristics of its parent buffalo and cattle. A PHEV has all the weight and inefficiency of an ICE drive train plus the weight and complexity and cost of an electric drivetrain. A serial hybrid, with no mechanical drivetrain, and a small genset for get-home ability and range extension (and I mean small, as in 5 to 15 kw.) would be cheaper and more efficient. All-battery vehicles, with no back up, will result in massive traffic jams caused by cars dead on the road because of people not paying attention to their battery draw-down.

Re: Morphology

To paraphrase President Clinton, it's the shape, stupid. Over 80% of trips are made by unaccompanied drivers in a vehicle carrying no cargo. It's the morphology: our cars are the wrong shape for their primary use. Think small, small, small for primary use, and multi-purpose for occasional use. An in-line seating, enclosed two-seat three-wheeler (think of the Piaggio MP-3 scooter made a little bigger and more aerodynamic) could provide real-world 100+ mpg. with minimal cost and complexity and using existing technology and infrastructure. Such a vehicle could be all-electric with a 5 kw. back-up genset.


Some people still don't realize that currently the cheapest source of H2 is natural gas. If splitting water was cheaper, it would be used.

A few people still insist that using nuclear, wind and solar to generate electricity to be used to split water into hydrogen is somehow economically viable. It costs more to transport a kW of H2 1 mile than it costs to transport the same energy using high voltage power lines. This is assuming high efficiency H2 pipelines. H2 pipelines (low or high pressure) both cost more per mile and have more transmission losses than today's high voltage lines (never mind the coming DC lines).

And nevermind that the efficiency of H2 generation from electricity (before you even transport it) is worse than battery efficiency.

So by the time the H2 makes it to your vehicle, it costs 4-12 times more per vehicle mile than if you just kept it as electricity.

Who do you think is lobbying for H2? Do you really know their affiliations? The oil companies have a lot of natural gas and not many people to use it (mostly because it costs so much to transport the stuff and it usually not generated close to large markets). H2 from CNG is competitive to electrolysis and would open up a new market. Nice. Only problem is, it would cost the poor consumer more per mile than electricity. But if they can work politics and public opinion just right, you won't have much choice anyways.

Besides a very low cost per mile demostrated today (not just 25 years from now) 100% electric transport has a very dangerous potential when combined with solar/wind: You might loose a signficant number of customers to self sufficiency.

And once you can make your own energy and power your own car in an efficient and simple way, then who cares how much you drive or the size of your vehicle? It is your energy and none of their business.

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