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National Research Council Report Concludes FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership Should Continue to Include Fuel Cells and Other Hydrogen Technologies in Research Portfolio

The FreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research) and Fuel Partnership—a research collaboration among the US Department of Energy, the US Council for Automotive Research, five major energy companies, and two electric utility companies—should continue to include fuel cells and other hydrogen technologies in its research and development portfolio, according to a new report by the National Research Council (NRC).

This report is the third NRC review of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Research Program; Phase 1 and Phase 2 reviews were issued in 2005 and 2008, respectively. The long-range goals of the Partnership focus on a transition to a highway transportation system that uses sustainable energy resources and reduces emissions, including net carbon emissions, on a lifecycle or well (source)-to-wheels basis.

Although the partnership’s recent shift of focus toward technologies that could be ready for use in the nearer term—such as advanced combustion engines and plug-in electric vehicles—is warranted, the new report says, R&D on hydrogen and fuel cells is also needed given the high costs and challenges that many of the technologies must overcome before widespread use.

The NRC committee sees essentially three primary alternative pathways to achieving the goals of reducing petroleum consumption, reducing emissions and reducing greenhouse gases:

  • Improved internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles coupled with greater use of biofuels;
  • A shifting of significant portions of transportation energy from petroleum to the grid through the expanded use of PHEVs and BEVs; and
  • The transition to hydrogen as a major transportation fuel utilized in fuel cell vehicles.

In general, the committee believes that the Partnership is effective in progressing toward its goals. There is evidence of solid progress in essentially all areas, even though substantial barriers remain. Most of the remaining barriers relate to cost (e.g., fuel cells, batteries, etc.), although there are also substantial performance barriers (e.g., onboard hydrogen storage, demonstrated fuel cell durability, adequate battery energy storage capability, etc.) and production and infrastructure barriers (e.g., the need for widespread affordable hydrogen if mass-produced fuel cell vehicles are to become a reality, a feedstock/production combination for biofuels that does not compete with food crops, etc.).

The fuel cell/hydrogen R&D is viewed by the committee as long-term, high-risk, high-payoff R&D that the committee considers not only to be appropriate, but also to be of the type that much of it probably would not get done without government support. Especially under the present economic conditions, the committee considers R&D for other precompetitive technologies, which could help reduce industry development times, also to be appropriate.

—“Review of the Research Program”

Until recently, the program had primarily focused on developing technologies that would allow US automakers to make production and marketing decisions by 2015 on hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. In 2009, the partnership changed direction and stepped up efforts to advance, in the shorter term, technologies for reducing petroleum use in combustion engines, including those using biofuels, as well as batteries that could be used in plug-in hybrid-electric or all electric vehicles.

The report reiterates the findings of a letter report issued by the committee last year. (Earlier post.) At that time, the US Department of Energy’s 2009 budget request to Congress essentially eliminated the hydrogen and automotive fuel-cell portions of the program in favor of developing nearer-term technologies. Congress has since reinstated most of that funding.

The new report calls for the partnership’s sustained support of a balanced portfolio of nearer-term and longer-term options, including research on fuel cells and hydrogen technologies. This research could provide sufficient information for the auto industry to make decisions about the marketability of hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2015.

The partnership should also intensify long-term, high-risk research to improve materials and systems for high-energy batteries, both for plug-in and battery electric vehicles, the report says. The partnership’s budget for battery technologies has increased, with about 75% directed to near- and mid-term development. Although the fleet of commercial hybrid vehicles has grown dramatically and the commercial launch of plug-in hybrids is imminent, long-term, high risk research is still needed for these cars to meet the performance and cost goals set out by the partnership, the report says.

Specific comments and recommendations by technology area in the report include:

Advanced Internal Combustion Engines and Emission Controls. The report says that there seems to be little doubt that, regardless of the success of any of the pathways discussed, the ICE will be the dominant prime mover for light-duty vehicles for many years, probably decades. Therefore, the authors conclude, it is clearly important to perform R&D to provide a better understanding of the fundamental processes affecting engine efficiency and the production of undesirable emissions.

An active ICE and liquid fuels R&D program should be maintained at all levels—i.e.,in industry, government laboratories, and academia—to expand the knowledge base to enable the development of technologies that can reduce the fuel consumption of transportation systems powered by ICEs.

  • Recommendation 3-3. The advanced combustion and emission control technical team should engage with the biofuels research community to ensure that the biofuels research which the team is conducting is consistent with and leverages the latest developments in the field of biofuels R&D.

Fuel Cells. Despite significant progress in performance and cost, no single fuel cell technology has attained the combination of performance and projected costs to be competitive with conventional systems.

The barriers that remain are both programmatic and technical. Programmatic issues relate to the coordination and execution of the high-risk research so that the solicitation timing and content address updated requirements of the Partnership. Technical barriers that still remain for the fuel cell stack are membrane and electrode life, in addition to cost. Both areas must remain the focus of the next round of solicitations, the report concludes.

  • Recommendation 3-7. The DOE should establish backup technology paths, in particular for stack operation modes and stack components, with the fuel cell technical team to address the case of current technology selections determined not likely to meet the targets. The DOE should assess which critical technology development efforts are not yielding sufficient progress and ensure that adequate levels of support for alternative pathways are in place.

Onboard Hydrogen Storage. Research aimed at significantly higher hydrogen storage capability needs to be maintained as a primary research focus. Materials-based storage at the level required to meet all program targets is considered theoretically achievable, yet no single material has been identified that simultaneously meets all of the targets (weight, volume, efficiency, cost, packaging, safety, refueling ability, etc.). The discovery and development of materials for effective onboard hydrogen storage is high-technical-risk R&D not likely to be accomplished without continued research attention and government funding, the report says.

  • Recommendation 3-12. The hydrogen storage program should continue to be funded, especially the systems-level work in the Hydrogen Storage Engineering COE. Efforts should also be directed to compressed-gas storage to help achieve weight and cost reduction while maintaining safety.

  • Recommendation 3-15. The search for suitable onboard hydrogen storage materials has been broadly based, and significant progress is reported. Nonetheless the current materials are not close to the long-range goals of the Partnership. Onboard hydrogen storage R&D risks losing out to near-term applications for future emphasis and funding. The management of a long-term/ short-term joint portfolio should be given consideration.

Electrochemical Energy Storage. The Partnership’s budget for electrochemical energy technologies has increased as the importance of PHEV battery development has increased. At present, about 75% of the funding is focused on near- and midterm development efforts directed at HEV and PHEV applications, and only 25% is directed to long-term R&D. The Partnership should also take the initiative to strengthen its focus on longer-term research on high-energy batteries and the establishment of a path toward BEVs, the report says.

  • Recommendation 3-17. The Partnership should significantly intensify its efforts to develop improved materials and systems for high-energy batteries for both plug-in electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles.

  • Recommendation 3-18. The Partnership should conduct a study to determine the cost of recycling batteries and the potential of savings from recycled materials. A research program on improved processes for recycling advanced batteries should be initiated in order to reduce the cost of the processes and recover useful materials and to reduce potentially hazardous toxic waste and, if necessary, to explore and develop new processes that preserve and recycle a much larger portion of the battery values.

Electric Propulsion and Electrical Systems. Electric propulsion is needed for HEVs, PHEVs, fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), and BEVs. In all of these cases the systems used can be distinguished by the size and power required as well as by the architecture. In addition to the prime mover (engine, fuel cell, or battery), the essential elements of the electric propulsion system are power electronics and one or two electrical machines.

  • Recommendation 3-20. The Partnership should conduct a project to evaluate the effect of battery charging on lithium-ion battery packs as a function of the cell chemistries, cell geometries, and configurations in the pack; battery string voltages; and numbers of parallel strings. A standardized method for these evaluations should be developed to ensure the safety of battery packs during vehicle operation as well as during plug-in charging.

  • Recommendation 3-21. The Partnership should consider conducting a project to investigate induction motors as replacements for the permanent magnet motors now almost universally used for electric propulsion.

Structural Materials. The 50% weight reduction is critical to reaching FreedomCAR goals for energy consumption and emissions. However, the target of no cost penalty for such a large weight reduction was unrealistic when set, and it remains unrealistic, the report says.

  • Recommendation 3-22. The materials technical team should develop a systems-analysis methodology to determine the currently most cost-effective way for achieving a 50% weight reduction for hybrid and fuel cell vehicles. The materials team needs to evaluate how the cost penalty changes as a function of the percent weight reduction, assuming that the most effective mix of materials is used at each step in the weight-reduction process. The analysis should be updated on a regular basis as the cost structures change as a result of process research breakthroughs and commercial developments.

  • Recommendation 3-24. Methods for the recycling of carbon-reinforced composites need to be developed.

Hydrogen and Other Fuel/Vehicle Pathways. EERE. The Fuel Cell Technologies program addresses a variety of means of producing hydrogen in distributed and centralized plants using technologies that can be made available in the short, medium, and long term. Three fuel technical teams are addressing these issues: fuel pathway integration, hydrogen production, and hydrogen delivery.

  • Recommendation 4-1. The DOE should broaden the role of the fuel pathways integration technical team (FPITT) to include an investigation of the pathways to provide energy for all three approaches currently included in the Partnership. This broader role could include not only the current technical subgroups for hydrogen, but also subgroups on biofuels utilization in advanced internal combustion engines and electricity generation requirements for PHEVs and BEVs, with appropriate industrial representation on each. The role of the parent FPITT would be to integrate the efforts of these subgroups and to provide an overall perspective of the issues associated with providing the required energy in a variety of scenarios that meet future personal transportation needs.

  • Recommendation 4-3. The Fuel Cell Technologies program should adjust its Technology Roadmap to account for the possibility that CO2 sequestration will not enable a midterm readiness for commercial hydrogen production from coal. It should also consider the consequences to the program of apparent large increases in US natural gas reserves.

  • Recommendation 4-4. The EERE should continue to work closely with the Office of Fossil Energy to vigorously pursue advanced chemical and biological concepts for carbon disposal as a hedge against the inability of geological storage to deliver a publicly acceptable and cost-effective solution in a timely manner. The committee also notes that some of the technologies now being investigated might offer benefits in the small-scale capture and sequestration of carbon from distributed sources.

  • Recommendation 4-13. Hydrogen delivery, storage, and dispensing should be based on the program needed to achieve the cost goal for 2017. If it is not feasible to achieve that cost goal, emphasis should be placed on those areas that would most directly impact the 2015 decision regarding commercialization. In the view of the committee, pipeline, liquefaction, and compression programs are likely to have the greatest impact in the 2015 time frame. The cost target should be revised to be consistent with the program that is carried out.

Biofuels. A thorough systems analysis of the biofuel distribution and end-use system that accounts for engine technologies and petroleum blending fuel properties could help to identify priority areas for further development. This could result in modified priorities for different biomass sources, conversion processes, biofuels, distribution systems, and engines.

  • Recommendation 4-14. A thorough systems analysis of the complete biofuel distribution and end-use system should be done. This should include (1) an analysis of the fuel- and engine efficiency gains possible through ICE technology development with likely particular biofuels or mixtures of biofuels and conventional petroleum fuels, and (2) a thorough analysis of the biofuel distribution system needed to deliver these possible fuels or mixtures to the end-use application.

The study was sponsored by US Department of Energy. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.




We are not very enthusiastic about Recommendation 3-3 simply because spending public funds on century old propulsion technology that promotes gas guzzling is a waste. Let the old school manufacturers pay for this R&D and spend the public funds on new sustainable systems and technology.

Aside from this there is little mention of the only practical solution to FCEVs - H2 on-demand. This is the one area that needs agressive R&d and would put the FCEV in play near term.

The other recommendations seem reasonable but a tacit acceptance of the predominance of ICE propulsion is a bow to the oil industry. We can transition to EVs just as quickly as public and government demands an end to unsustainable petroleum fuel.

Hateful as it is, we may need to install the escalating fuel tax to speed the movement away from unsustainable, eco-hazard producing oil.


If you want the most done with the least expenditure, I recommend FFV/M85. I doubt that we will have 50 million EVs on the road in the next 10 years at a reasonable cost.


Since there seems to be much more (cheap) natural gas than we will need in the next 50 years (and after that, we will need no fossils at all anyway), an interesting path could be the direct conversion of CH4 --> C + 2H2.
The carbon black can be used in many processes or just mixed with soil to improve soil quality (terra preta).
Of course, the carbon could also be burned to produce more energy, but since we already have 'too much' CH4, it's better to simply use some more methane and produce the clean H2.

If this process is done with biomethane, it is true atmospheric carbon sequestration.

A disadvantage is that you need about 70 kJ/mol for the conversion, but that can be produced by consuming a little of the H2.


If you keep funding H, keep it .01%. They've had ages of funding and have little (or nothing) to show for it. H-vehicle research appears to be a smokescreen for doing nothing.
Please correct me H-folks.

Roger Pham

Major auto mfg's are announcing the release of mass-produced FCV's by 2015. There are great FCV prototypes from major auto FCV's running around right now, collecting data and experience. The Honda FCX Clarity is now available in limited numbers.

While private companies are funding vehicular H2 technology, there is still a need for public money to fund H2 storage, transporting, and infrastructure research and deployment. Great many discoveries have been made regarding H2 adsorptive storage medium at moderate to low pressures, but it will take more funding to bring these to the market place. The high-risk nature of these developments requires initial public money before we can expect private companies to further advance the art.

NG should be saved for "rainy days" (or windless days). The thrust of current development and economic growth should be to maximize renewable energy collection for H2 production.
In fact, to make it sustainable, the thrust of future economic development and growth should be about environment conservation, instead of more and cheaper consumer goods and electronic goods that will further pollute the environment.


@Roger Pham
Technologically you are correct, but I don't know how you get economic growth without more and cheaper consumer goods. Perhaps your key phrase was "instead of ... goods that will further pollute the environment.


And we love our iPhones... They don't pollute. Their makers do.


Roger_Pham, i like your optimism and hope you're right. i would love to eat my words.
Couldn't agree more on "environmental conservation".


A few simple facts many ignore.

Its NOT the honda clarity that will go on sale in 2015 its the honda clarity m2. A much improved version of the car.

Same with all the fuel cell cars.

The goals for h2 fuel cell cars arnt NEEDS they are wants. They want the fuel tank to be small enough the car owner ignores it. They dont need that tho. They want the car to be POWERFUL.. they dont NEED that tho. They WANT the cars fuel cell to last 15-25 years of use. They dont need that. They WANT the fuel to cost no more then gasoline does per mile.... but the people who will buy these things early on dont NEED that.

No what this is about is speeding the progress to the WANTS of the masses. To smooth the rough transition off oil more then batteries alone can.

Now the REAL reason its funded even YES by dems and everyone else.. is because if the transition is too rough EVERYONE WILL BE FIRED!!!!!!!!!!!!! As in political mass suicide.

And as most parties face the horror propositon of being in charge and thus to blame if it gets too rough they are all doing everthing in thier power to not be blamed.

So all this and evs and bio fuels and all is just a fallout shelter for politicos and the comming blamestorm.


H2 is a long-term solution and will be so in the foreseeable future. Therefore, research in this area should have a long-term focus, be somewhat limited (though higher than 0.01% suggested by danm...) and mainly target universities and federal labs. Car manufacturers should focus on mid-term R&D such as HEVs, PHEVs and - to some extent - EVs.


It isnt long term anymore. Up until about 2002 all h2 realy was was an IF all hell breaks loose in the middle east can we make a working car/truck/bus/train/dump truck/garbage truck/semi/tractor that doesnt need us to have oil...

Now its can we make something as handy as our current cars trucks busses dump trucks blah blah blah before we have oil problems....

Chris Jensen

Bring on the H2 and the Ethanol and the M85 and NGV cars and more nuclear power and algae bio-diesel and EVs hooked to backyard windmills. We need all of it so we can stop sending our cash to other countries for their oil.


That is the goal, to reduce oil imports. All new FFVs and M85 available across the country can do that in the shortest period at the least cost.

tom blakeslee

After 7 years and over a billion dollars spent trying to find a practical way to store hydrogen we still have nothing. p89 quote: "since 2008 review more than 350 materials approaches for hydrogen storage were investigated, of which 68 percent have been discontinued and 32 percent are still under investigation. Twenty-one hydrogen storage patents were issued. To date no material for onboard hydrogen storage has been identified that meets the full set of 2015 targets."
On p41 they say: "Even assuming that technical and cost barriers were overcome, such approaches to fueling the transportation sector would take two to three decades to make a significant impact."
I'm amazed that the committee and congress continue to pour money down this rat hole. Before the FreedomCar program was announced in 2003, every major car manufacturer had working prototypes that used reformers to make hydrogen in the car to make hydrogen from a normal-sized gas tank full of methanol.
Methanol is $1 a gallon without subsidies. We could have fuel cell cars today if Bush hadn't thrown them off the track. The 2010 budget (p158) only shows $171k for fuel processors vs $47 million for hydrogen. This is crazy! We need 2x more efficient, clean cars now!
In Denmark, Serenergy already has a prototype car using a new high temperature HTPEM fuel cell that works at a temperature compatible with methanol reforming. Too bad the US will miss out because of our hydrogen obsession.


Tom as I said already they didnt NEED to store h2 that compactly they wanted to try and find such a compact storage medium.

They can store enough h2 in a car to go 300 miles with todays fuel cells.. nearly 500 miles with suv sized cars.. By 2015 the fuel cell they use should get between 15-20% better fuel economy.. thats 360-600 miles... If that isnt enough h2 then frankly someone REALY needs to cut down on thier commute distance;/

As we have learned with bevs you dont need your fuel tank to be as small as a gasoline fuel tank.

Anyway exactly how many cars do you real;y think we could fuel with methanol and at what cost to the environment? Id much rather plant a few million windmills and solar farms then plant a few billion acres of crops.


I agree completely that we should use renewable (or nuclear) energy instead of NG as much as possible. But that is not the choice we have at this moment. At this moment we have to choose between coal/petrol or NG.
Let's build as much nuclear plants, solar plants and windmills as we can, but it will still take a long time before we can have a carbon-negative worldeconomy.

Meanwhile, we have enormous amounts of cheap NG that can be transformed to H2 with easy sequestration of carbon black. It is rather easy and cheap to transform most of our fossil fuel use to NG-use. Even if we release the CO2, it is already the least polluting, but since we have much more NG than is usefull, we could transform the NG to H2 and only use the H2 as an energy source.

I am confident that within 50 years we will need no fossils at all anymore. Technology is taking off at an exponential rate and will provide all we need quite soon. (anyway long before we run out of NG)
The point is we must make sure the climate is not too much disrupted by then.

Considering H2 in a fuel cell.
cheap methods can transform CO2 + H2 + energy --> methanol.
Cheap reformers can transform methanol --> CO2 + H2

Methanol is very easy to transport, relatively non-toxic and easy to store.

This could bring us a H2-Car much faster and cheaper than expensive adsorption fuel tanks.

Roger Pham

Cheap NG will discourage development of renewable energy, if left to free-market mechanism. There must be a world-wide universal effort by all governments seeking to phase out fossil fuel energy. There must be a gradually increasing carbon tax or fossil-fuel energy tax announced in advance that fossil fuel will be more and more expensive, in order that investments will be made in renewable energy.

We do not need cheap energy. We need jobs for the large number of unemployed people who are highly qualified to work in renewable energy development, installation, and maintenance. The labor-intensive installation and maintenance of solar, wind, and geothermal energy collectors will create a lot of local that cannot be exported to cheap sweat shops overseas.

We need governments with visions to lead the people to a path toward gainful employment, global and environmental sustainability, instead of governments being puppets of blind big businesses whose only goal is shallow profits at expense of the future of our planet.


Well put Roger. Good to see emphasis on the JOBS portion of the energy issue. However you have left out one of the largest creators of energy JOBS yet imagined. The large scale conversion of the residential sector to distributed energy systems. Specifically home CHP via natural gas fueled FCs. Just as the introduction of the refrigerator and hot water heater provided millions of jobs in manufacturing, installation and maintenance - so too will home CHP units.

So, cheap NG will NOT discourage development of renewable energy unless it is applied only to CC power plants and converted ICE vehicles. NG is our first level fuel in CHP residential power units. Distributed energy is a high value national and worldwide goal precisely because it creates JOBS. It also "greens" the globe by obviating unnecessary, inefficient power lines and coal-fired plants, vastly improving energy security, providing a balancing reserve for grids, efficient production of residential heat and electricity and... JOBS.

Moving a portion of our population off-grid is a big vision energy plan. It will t-off the utilities and oilcos who rely on centralized resources for big profits. It will enable the independent production of energy on a community level. And lower the demand for new fossil-based power plants. This is a non-disruptive way to enable homeowners and small multi-resident dwellings to become energy independent.

It also requires old-school energy monopolies to retire. Likely the biggest hurdle.


We do not need cheap energy.

You do not need cheap PERIOD.
Cheap energy is bad for the environment, cheap food is bad for your health (America is the fattest country in the world.) and cheap comsumer goods are bad for your employment rates.

Shopping Walmart is un-american.


"Cheap energy is bad for the environment, cheap food is bad for your health."

Energy will not ever be cheap as it represents a growing and vast market. But it will be increasingly affordable by many more than ever before. This means millions of people will no longer suffer without refrigeration, clean water, access to modern medical care or well equipped school systems.

The days of using energy to control populations at the expense of human life - are ending.

What is correct is we do not need cheap crap made in Far East that steals JOBS and creates a TRASH culture. Note too that Mexico ranks second in unhealthful obesity - in spite of the relative poverty and lower consumerism. Education is key to health and that requires affordable energy.

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