Study Finds That Implementation of a Portfolio of Transportation Strategies Will Be Required for Significant Reductions in GHG from Transportation Sector; Pricing Strategies Have the Largest Potential
Elektromotive Lands EV Infrastructure Deal with KAUST in Saudi Arabia

USCAR Argues for Continued US Funding of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Research

Projected hydrogen fuel cell system costs. Click to enlarge.

The United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR) recently published a whitepaper on the importance of continued research of hydrogen as a low-carbon transportation solution, in the context of the proposed cutting of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research in the Department of Energy FY2010 budget. (Earlier post.)  The whitepaper is available for download on the USCAR website.

A separate  interim report by the National Research Council (NRC) assessing the strategy and structure of the Department of Energy’s FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership, also published in July, 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. (Earlier post.)

USCAR was founded in 1992 with the goal of strengthening the technology base of the US auto industry through cooperative research and development. USCAR is governed by the three-member USCAR Council, whose membership includes the R&D vice presidents from GM, Ford and Chrysler.

Use of electricity as an environmentally-friendly transportation ‘fuel’ is dependent on progress in on board energy storage (batteries and ultracapacitors) and improved electrical generation and distribution infrastructure. Even with complete success in meeting the USABC long-term goals for battery energy capacity, electric vehicles cannot compete with hydrogen-fueled vehicles for general usage in terms of range and ‘refill’ time. Use of hydrogen as a transportation fuel as on-board storage for useful range and refill time is already available (if not optimal), for use in both highly-efficient, dedicated internal combustion engines or Fuel Cells Vehicles (FCVs).

Because profitable high-volume deployment of FCVs depends on significant progress in multiple technologies both on and off the vehicle, the USCAR OEMs have made deployment of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and various forms of electric vehicles a near term focus. Most of the core technologies (battery, electric-drive systems, system controls) of these ‘electrified’ products will flow directly to fuel cell vehicles. Similarly, the DOE support for ‘grid-connected’ vehicles will indirectly support the ultimate commercialization of FCVs.

Regardless of their individual strategies, the USCAR members are firm in their belief that hydrogen-FCVs will be an important powertrain option in our future of sustainable transportation. Given the long-term nature of this investment and the many uncertainties surrounding the rebuilding of our national energy infrastructure, it is not prudent to pick de facto winning technologies by ending all support for research and development of FCVs.

—Hydrogen Research for Transportation: The USCAR Perspective

The whitepaper recaps some of the recent developments and successes in four areas fundamental to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: fuel cells; hydrogen storage; hydrogen source pathways; and infrastructure.

While progress in fuel cells has tracked DOE and industry research projections for efficiency, cost reduction and durability improvement, there are still gaps to levels that would make fuel cell technology competitive with advanced combustion engines, USCAR notes.

Capacities of different H2 storage systems. Click to enlarge.

On the storage front, compressed hydrogen is adequate for many near and mid-term applications, though energy density and cost are still issues, USCAR says. Considerable progress has been made in the last 5 years to improve the storage density of hydrogen in vehicles; DOE and industry research has achieved roughly a doubling of stored capacity in advanced systems over the last 7 years.

The members recognize that continued research on material based storage systems is required in order to achieve performance and cost targets for the full range of U.S fleet model mix. The OEMs support the DOE approach to maintaining a research budget balanced across multiple material groups (metal hydrides, chemical hydrides and sorbents). A sustained effort utilizing DOE’s key technical resources such as the National Labs is required to ensure these new technologies reach commercial viability.

In terms of hydrogen production, the USCAR whitepaper says that while not the ultimate solution, steam methane reforming (SMR) can serve as the first of many future hydrogen production pathways.

Other pathways for producing hydrogen will exploit increasing availability of clean electricity, renewable feedstocks and carbon sequestration to drive down the carbon footprint of road transportation even as mass deployment of fuel cell vehicles begins. Just as for core fuel cell technologies, the research foundation for large-scale availability of clean hydrogen must be laid today, and DOE plays a central role in driving that research.

Given the longer-term nature of fuel cell vehicle commercializations, the OEMs do not consider a large, immediate investment in fueling infrastructure a high priority at this time, according to USCAR. However, some analyses suggest that the investment required to keep hydrogen availability well ahead of vehicle deployment so as to foster rapid adoption is modest.

A network of just 12,000 hydrogen stations would put hydrogen within two miles of 70% of the U.S. population (those living in the 100 largest metropolitan areas) and connect the major US metro areas with a hydrogen refueling station every 25 miles.

Continued government support of development over the next few years is very important to maintain stability of critical capabilities, maintain momentum and assure constant evolution of transportation fuel-cell technologies...developments relevant to stationary applications alone are far less likely to be applicable to vehicles.

Since it takes decades to “turn over” the light duty vehicle fleet, critical technologies must approach the point of commercialization in the next ten to fifteen years if they are to play a role in meeting our 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals. DOE’s removal of support for transportation fuel-cell programs will dramatically diminish the US development of one of the truly zero-emission alternatives. Therefore, DOE should be encouraged to balance technology development priorities to include fuel cell vehicle technologies to assure that the current pace of development continues.



Dave R

So, according to the chart, I should be able to go and buy a fuel cell that can pump out 100 kW for about $7,000.

Anyone know where I can get one of those for that price and how many kWh it holds?


Well if your willing to buy in bulk it should be easy. That figure is the mass production cost for 500k a year.. and note in 2010 they expect it to be 4500 bucks.

As for kwh capacity.. They have 8 and 10 kg storage systems for suvs so thats around 128-160 kwh right now and if the fuel cells reach 75% as expected and the storage reaches its goals as expected they should be able to more then double that to near 400 kwh max in an suv sized truck.


How can I put this charitably....

These guys are idiots, at least with respect to hydrogen fuel.

I find it amusing that they cite Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) as an interim source of hydrogen.

Hmm, how about instead just using the methane (or natural gas, same thing) as the fuel itself? That would solve the storage problems AND the infrastructure problems. Most of the improved efficiency is best accomplished with PHEV technology.

And methane can be synthesized from renewable sources (solar wind) by electrolysis and the Sabatier reactor, so we're covered on that front at well.

Maybe these people have just been staring at this problem a little too long. We just need a practical way to displace oil. PHEVs and methane (from NG, or biomass, or synthetic) is something we can do today with today's technology and will likely ALWAYS be cheaper than any hydrogen solution for vehicles.


“highly transformational" my sphincter!
Even if by some miracle fool-cells where as economical as an ICE, there's still the HUGE infrastructure cost. And the fact that fool-cells are no Greener than the energy expended to make H2. Plus fool-cells do not eliminate the need for batteries: a fool-cell car is a PHEV. A fool-cell is a constant current device, not constant voltage like a battery. The response time for a fool-cell to changing current requirement is measured in minutes.
It is Battery research that's going to be “highly transformational"

Roger Pham

You're partially right. The Pickens plan using wind energy to reserve NG for transportation is a very important step right now. However, eventually, H2 derived from wind and solar energy will be important for countries without NG nor sufficient waste biomass, such as Japan and the Middle East. Look at how Putin was puttin' the squeeze on Ukraine and Western Europe by cutting off the NG flow!

Have you driven a Honda FCX Clarity, lately? "Just one look is all it took" to fall in love with the concept! For just $600/month and you can lease it...If Honda thinks that you'd qualify...But after reading your insults after insults on H2, I'd bet they are gonna shake their heads.


I tend toward Jim's view about FC and NG.

Some FCs can operate with NG. That would avoid the cost of a national H infrastructure. NG is widely available. And we continue to discover large amounts domestically.

ICEs can use NG too, and companies will make the adaptation if there is a market.

The downside of beginning with NG is CO2. If CO2 is your top concern then the NGFC doesn't look as good. But neither does getting H from the SMR process.

So there will either be a cost for CO2 capture, or no CO2 capture, or the H will come from water (and be much more expensive).


You can reform CH4 on the car to H2 for PEM fuel cells. Daimler Chrysler reformed methanol to H2 on the NECAR series and it worked fine.

Methane (CH4) is easier to transport by pipelines and store. H2 at 10,000 psi scares the heck out of me, now matter how many reassuring words are spoken.

I can understand their position on H2 cars. It has been their grant money and careers for many years.

The recent cut backs did not stop research, it just requires doing the same thing with less money. That amounts to efficiency after many years of plenty. If they have done their up front work for 8 years it should be easy from here on.


The thing about h2 vs ng is with converting to h2 the COMPANY making the h2 has the dealie with dealing with the co2 NOT YOU. This makes it tons better for the car maker and you.

Also after we hit about 70 g/km required limits we are dealing with predomiently electric drive cars. Its FAR better to run ng to h2 to power then it is to run ng to powerplant and so on or to run ng through an ice engine and genset.

Also in places where ng isnt cheap but say wet enthanol is or coal or biomass or used spandex tutus... you can swap to other LOCAL feedstocks.

Besides in the end we will be dealing with a choice between a 40 hp carbon fiber minicar powered by ng with thousands in emmissions controls and a 10 speed transmission and so on or a 2 grand 150 hp fuel cell stack and whatever car you want.

Henry Gibson

For automobiles, diesel engines can be as efficient as fuel cells. The exhaust can be cleaned up without much loss of energy.

The production of diesel or DME from CO2 and nuclear energy eliminates the CO2 release from the equation.

If even a small range extender is built in. Lead batteries are good enough for plug in hybrid electric cars right now. They were good enough for a TZERO ten years ago.

If capital and fuel making costs are considered, combined cycle cogeneration for plug-in-hybrid charging will alway be superior to any hydrogen fuel cell.

The energy saving uses of the INNAS NOAX free piston engine have been ignored too long, but how are you going to sell a car to a guy if it only has a single cylinder.

In car combined cycle operation is also possible and very efficient.



The issue is not whether NG is better than H2, it is a matter of priorities. If we want to a)become less dependent on Oil, and b) cut greenhouse gasses, the fastest approach is to implement current economically viable technologies -- NG. Long term H2 will work, but we have to decide where to put our money. Today, I would buy a NG vehicle. Ten years from now, maybe not.

Roger Pham

Why put up with the complication of reforming CH4 onboard the car when a simple adsorptive H2 tank at a not-too-high pressure at 70gm/liter capacity is all that will be needed? Why use CH4 at all, when H2 can be made from solar and wind energy and waste biomass in one easy step?

Henry Gibson posted: "For automobiles, diesel engines can be as efficient as fuel cells. The exhaust can be cleaned up without much loss of energy."

I don't see how 42% efficiency of small diesel can compare with 60-70% efficiency of PEM FC. Diesel exhaust emission clean up is expensive, yet cannot even compare with gasoline engine, let alone to the ZEV standard of FCV's.

H2 is the simplest and most efficient way to make fuel out of renewable energy, and FC is the most efficient way to use that fuel. It's Clean, Pure and Simple!


Hydrogen fuel cell technology has too many limitations, inefficiencies, inapplicabilities and impracticalities. It's a technology that requires an inordinate amount of supervisory influence, that is, it will require professional supervision, maintenance and to store and distribute the hydrogen. This, I suspect, is why GM led the way in its fuel cell R&D: planned obsolescence.

Ask why GM is dropping its Saturn hybrid models and with pompous fanfare promoting the dubiously-named "range-extender" Chevy Volt. Does GM disapprove of consumers hearing the term 'plug-in'? Why is the Volt nearly double the cost and why is it a sports car? Since the automotive NiMh battery is perfected to reliably last 100,000-125,000 miles, why is it not made available for plug-in hybrid production models? Again, the answer to these questions is 'planned obsolescence'.

GM does NOT wish to make plug-in hybrids because they will last too long and thus need replacement less frequently. GM doesn't care about the lives that will be saved because they're safer cars and frankly, neither does our democratic party led Congress.


"It's a technology that requires an inordinate amount of supervisory influence, that is, it will require professional supervision, maintenance and to store and distribute the hydrogen."
And the other technologies don't????

"GM doesn't care about the lives that will be saved because they're safer cars and frankly, neither does our democratic party led Congress."
And a republican led Congress would????


With respect to Carbon emissions and NG vs. H2:

It would be MUCH cheaper to simply pay for carbon capture and sequestration from a stationary site than to make the fuel on a vehicle carbon-free. With respect to near-term H2 use, the only additive cost would be the capture, as the H2 supply would (supposedly) also have to deal with sequestration.

In the case of biomass or synthetically derived methane, since the CO2 output would be carbon-neutral - no net output.

Roger P: Even countries without NG would be better off using methane instead of H2, even if derived from electrolysis. Anyone can pull CO2 out of the air (Lackner, Keith) if they want to. There seems to be plenty of it around.....


@Roger Pham
have you taken your Meds lately?


I would have no problem with "high energy, rechargeable battery technology" that is not specific to hydrogen fuel cells. But to specify only one battery chemistry is neither good science nor good engineering. Just look at the comments as there is no consensus.

We just got out of eight years of politically directed 'engineering' that declared fuel-cells to be the winning technology. It killed the hybrids and existing battery technology electric vehicles and gave the hybrid electric market to Toyota and Honda. Only Ford had the good sense to carry on.

Well we had an election and thrown out the 'politically correct' and directed nonsense. It is time to return to science and engineering and let the 'Lysenko' support for hydrogen fool-cells compete in the natural world.

Bob Wilson


Um bob.. we lost that race in the 90s well before bush.


Well well. Look how our democratic party-led congress so quickly ponied up $2 billion to subsidize new car sales. I wonder how many hybrids were purchased on the first installment of $1 billion? Roughly 250,000 cars sold, say 1%, maybe 2,500, a liberal estimate.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles are simpler to maintain than hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and support infrastructure, ai vin. There are too many nerds giving the automobile-related industry all the cover it needs to prevent progress. Lemmings today are humans driving their new cars over a cliff, one after another.


The sales distribution for July should be available by August 5 if past practices are followed.

As for the hydrogen fool-cell programs, they were funded by defunding PNGV. There is a not a whole lot of difference between the GM Precept that someday will be the Chevy Volt. Although not a diesel hybrid, the Ford Prodigy is pretty much the R&D for their Escape and now Ford Fusion.

USCAR killed PNGV only Ford, Toyota and Honda didn't get the memo. There just aren't any serious hybrids but for these three manufacturers and two, GM and Chrysler declared bankruptcy. Hybrid skepticism by GM and Chrysler is just a symptom of the same thinking that a fool-cell program would stave off the inevitable. They've already lost credibility.

We do need a domestic, high-capacity battery capability and better battery technologies. But hydrogen fuel cells need to be considered as just one of many options.

Bob Wilson


You don't have to tell me that Plug-in hybrid vehicles are simpler to maintain than hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and support infrastructure. My comment was directed at your singling out the democratic party when it was a Republican led WhiteHouse that favored the fool cell program over such simpler solutions in the first place.

Roger Pham

@Bob Wilson,

USCAR does not have to kill PNGV. Both types of vehicles will be needed to get us off oil dependency. HEV's are for right now, and FCV's are for a little bit into the future, but, the sooner the better.

The money spent on these vital research is just peanut, in comparison to the trillion dollars spent on the Iraq (Operation Iraqi Liberation, or OIL, for short!).
More money will need to be spent on enhancing America's technological edge and trade competitiveness instead of wasting our precious federal budget on pork-barrel projects. Patriotism over local self-interest!


Actualy uscar mostly was about the car not fuel cells.

And on h2 most of the money spent was on pipeline and storage and making making h2 cheaper which to be blunt we need to do anyway as it costs a bloody hell of alot of energy to make the h2 we make right now and we are making more every year.

What little was spent on actual fuel cells was mostly partial dod projects and forlifts and apus and busses NOT cars. And that is needed to keep the US companies ahead of the game so we dont lose yet anouther important industry.

Or would you rather bush hadnt pushed that work and we were looking at a bloody bad end to everything we make that depends on h2 to make it as peak ng comes along?


Actually, no, I don't have a problem with Bush pushing fuel cell research. What I have a problem with is that he used it as a smokescreen to kill the PNGV. Sure it had it's faults but PNGV was a seed that was bearing fruit. Junior chopped down that tree and planted one that wouldn't produce anything for 20 years. [Really, what did you expect from a WhiteHouse full of 'oil' people?]

The PNGV met the goal that was set: Produce a prototype for a 5 seat family car that gets 3X the current MPG [3 X 23mpg = 80mpg]. That the Big Three didn't think they could SELL a car like that wasn't the fault of the program, they could have expanded the goal of '3X the current MPG' to vehicles they could sell.

On another note; the PNGV goal was met through aerodynamics, lightweighting and downsizing of the power plant - techniques that will have to be used to even greater effect on any fuel cell car the USCAR program does end up producing. Why? Well because hydrogen has a lower energy density *per unit volume* than gasoline or diesel. Meaning a car using H2 can't carry a lot and will have to make the most of that it can to get the range we want. In other words, the car will have to be smaller, lighter and sleeker. And if the Big Three couldn't sell a car like that with a hybrid drivetrain what makes us think they could sell a car like that with a more costly fuel cell power source?


Why would they need to when uscar is already doing all that already? Again you assume uscar is all about the fuel cell and thus is all 20 years out yet most of it is about tech today/near term used in todays cars.

As for the h2 car... they already have 500 plus mile range fcevs. Many people see old articles on 100 mile range fcevs and assume thats todays test cars.

Whats realy holding up h2 fuel cell cars is they want it to be BETTER then gasoline cars before they go forward. Creating a usable car is one thing creating a better car is a whole new ballgame.


You are talking about the Toyota FCHV-adv, right? It gets that by using a 10,000 PSI tank carrying 156 litres of H2.

The comments to this entry are closed.