Interim Report from National Research Council Urges DOE to Continue Support of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Research
An interim report by the National Research Council (NRC) assessing the strategy and structure of the Department of Energy’s FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership concluded that although the Obama Administration’s focus on nearer-term vehicle technologies to reduce petroleum fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is on the right track, there remains a need for continued investment in longer-term, higher-risk, higher-payoff vehicle technologies that could be “highly transformational” with regard to those twin concerns.
In addition to advanced batteries, such technologies include systems for hydrogen storage and hydrogen fuel cells, the review panel said. The report comes in the context of the proposed zeroing-out of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research funding in the DOE’s proposed FY 2010 budget. (Earlier post.)
For researchers, contractors, and investors to be willing to make long-term commitments to these and other potentially important developing technologies, a consistent year-to-year level of support must be provided, the report said.
...the committee is concerned about the impact of severely scaling back the DOE hydrogen/fuel cell vehicle programs. It is not yet clear that the hydrogen/fuel cell approach (or for that matter advanced ICEs/biomass, or PHEVs/BEVs) can or cannot meet reasonable emission and driving-range requirements while also being affordable to purchase and operate. Recent fuel cell lifetime and durability improvements are encouraging, as are projected lower costs. Further, even though demonstration hydrogen/fuel cell vehicles are showing safe operation at ever-increasing driving ranges with compressed hydrogen gas storage, the existing DOE hydrogen storage centers of excellence, in the committee’s view, are likely to provide the best opportunity for finding better solutions, if they exist.
Other recommendations include incorporating a broader-scope approach to better consider total emissions and the full environmental impact of using various fuels and technologies; providing temporary reductions in cost-share requirements to ease the burden on prospective researchers; and providing direct funding to struggling automotive companies to help keep important in-house research programs active.
Background to the report. The National Research Council (NRC) functions under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The NAS, NAE, IOM, and NRC are part of a private, nonprofit institution that provides science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln that was originally granted to the NAS in 1863. Under this charter, the NRC was established in 1916, the NAE in 1964, and the IOM in 1970. The four organizations are collectively referred to as the National Academies.
The FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership (the Partnership) as it currently exists, is a focused research and technology development program that emphasizes high-risk, high-payoff technologies believed to be essential for a transition to vastly different light-duty passenger vehicles.
The research has been directed and supported by a collaboration among the US government (especially DOE), the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR; its members are Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors Corporation), five key energy companies (BP America, Chevron Corporation, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corporation, and Shell Hydrogen [US]), and, more recently, two major utility companies (Southern California Edison and DTE Energy). The Partnership has established, and periodically reviews, a roadmap with research milestones against which to measure progress in moving toward long-term goals, which so far have focused on hydrogen/fuel cell vehicles.
Two earlier NRC reports in 2005 and 2008 assessed the structure and management of the Partnership as well as the nature, adequacy, and progress of the research activities. A third report, based on Partnership activities and progress following the 2008 report, is planned. However, the NRC noted,
...a number of recent changes in policy as well as technology advancements...will influence the long-term goals of the Partnership as well as the paths to achieving them. In response to a request by DOE that the committee start its Phase 3 work by writing a letter report on the effects of these events and suggesting corresponding changes in the program, work on the Phase 3 report was temporarily delayed. This brief interim letter report is an attempt by the committee to offer constructive suggestions for possible changes to the existing Partnership program, especially its goals and strategy.
Suggested actions. The NRC suggested an increased emphasis on the R&D needed to produce usable short-term technologies (e.g., better batteries for PHEVs, improved ICEs), along with continuing R&D on the long-term technologies (e.g., BEVs, cellulosic ethanol and other non-foodcrop biofuels, hydrogen fuel, and fuel cells). An increased emphasis is also required for technologies that will produce significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., CO2) and the increased use of domestic energy sources, especially biofuels.
Finally, the Partnership should consider broadening the scope of the technical approaches being considered within each of the three major fuel and vehicle technology pathways (biofuels/ICEs, PHEVs/BEVs, and hydrogen/fuel cell vehicles). In the electric vehicle area, other storage approaches such as nano-enhanced capacitors and batteries beyond those with lithium chemistries should be the subject of basic and potential future applied research. In addition, many fuel cell approaches and hydrogen storage options should continue to be investigated, and options should not be prematurely shut down.