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Mid-project data from Oak Ridge study suggests hydrogen vehicles could have up to 70% market share by 2050

Hydrogen vehicle market penetration under different scenarios. Source: Dr. David Greene. Click to enlarge.

Hydrogen vehicles (H2V, including H2 ICE, fuel cell and fuel cell plug-in hybrid vehicles) could achieve a market share ranging from 30% to 70% in 2050, according to preliminary results from a study by Dr. David Greene and colleagues at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) presented at the DOE 2012 Hydrogen and Fuel Cells and Vehicle Technologies Programs Annual Merit Review meetings in Washington this week.

The wide swing depends on achieving further technical success with the development of hydrogen vehicle technology resulting in lower costs, Greene said. H2V technology success—which includes a sharp reduction in the fuel cell cost/kW and on-board storage, as well as a public hydrogen infrastructure—results in the H2V market share of around 70%, compared to around 30% with current baseline technology scenarios.

(A scenario with no technology progress and no infrastructure results in essentially zero market share.)

The study project—which is 50% complete—is using ORNL’s Market Acceptance of Advanced Automotive Technologies (MA3T) discrete choice model, with the baseline calibrated to the US Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2011 reference case. The model estimates sales of 40 vehicle technologies, including conventional and hybrid ICE, plug-in hybrids, natural gas vehicles, battery-electric vehicles, and a range of hydrogen vehicles. It analyzes 1,458 consumer segments, including region, area, driver, early adopter, at home and at work charging.

So far, the team has analyzed technology status, energy markets and policies as factors likely to influence the competitiveness of hydrogen vehicles. Study of a fourth critical factor, consumer preference, is to come.

Some key parameters used in the model are:

  • Fuel cell technology baseline of $60/kW FC system, $10/kWh storage; Fuel cell+ (fuel cell success) of $25/kW, on-board storage $5/kWh by 2050.

  • Plug-in vehicle baseline of $450/kWh through 2050; Bat+ of $150/kWh by 2050, Bat20yr+ = Bat+ achieved 20 years earlier.

Among the other initial findings of the study are:

  • Low-cost batteries (Bat+) help all vehicles: H2Vs and PEVs as well as BEVs. The light duty vehicle market is big enough for both fuel cell and battery technologies to succeed.

  • The key factor in H2V success is fuel cell technology. Battery success expands the market for both H2 and ICE plug-in hybrids.

  • Given technological success, hydrogen vehicles appear to be competitive under a range of hydrogen prices. (In the excerpt from the study presented at the Review, Dr. Greene noted H2 prices ranging from $2.0/gallon of gasoline equivalent to $4.0; in a separate study presented at the Merit Review, Dr. Brian Bush of NREL computed a long-term (out to 2050) levelized delivered cost of hydrogen of $6/kg.)

  • H2V market success will vary with the price of oil, but technology advances are more important.

  • Success for both battery and fuel cell vehicles reduces light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in 2050 compared to 2010 before considering low-carbon biofuels and grid de-carbonization.

  • The subsidies required for hydrogen (fuel+infrastructure) are estimated to be about $30 billion, depending on technology status.

Initial projection of purchase probability. Source: Dr. David Greene. Click to enlarge.

The next step for Green and his colleagues is to test sensitivity to consumers’ preferences, complete the experimental design and analyze the results. An initial projection by the MA3T model for 2050, assuming successful development and cost reduction in cell fuel and battery technologies suggests that the fuel cell plug-in hybrid vehicle would have the highest probability of purchase.

The much lower battery cost implicit in that scenario would potentially lower fuel costs, Greene suggested, and save time by reducing trips to the hydrogen fuel station.


  • AN023: Sensitivity Analysis of H2-Vehicles Market Prospects, Costs and Benefits (Dr. David Greene, DOE 2012 Merit Review). The presentations will be posted in several weeks on




Plug-in Hybrid technology (PHEV) has by far the most potential. The next most practical technology is battery-electric (BEV) and lastly fuel cell vehicles for niche applications. They key technology are the highly efficient battery and electric propulsion.

Because a PHEV battery pack is 1/3 the size of a BEV pack, the PHEV serves 3x the market, offering more households the choice whether to drive or use electricity for household purposes; offers the means to monitor (and conserve) overall electicity consumption; the means to store surplus grid electricity and supply the grid during peak demand. PHEV is a better match with rooftop photovoltiac solar panels. PHEV's can run on combustable hydrogen stored at lower pressures than required for fuel cell.

Energy conservation and emission reduction means we must drive less, take mass transit more, walk and bike more, fly less, transport goods less, etc. When automobile-related corporations praise the fuel cell technofix, white collar wannabee groupies jump on the bandwagon.

Bob Wallace

Roger - it may make sense to store energy with H2 in "Northern Europe" situations.

But the cost of a H2 infrastructure and the likely higher cost of FCEVs may mean that it will make more sense to store the H2 and use it to generate electricity during the low sun/wind months. Otherwise you're going to be building for the exceptional condition rather than the normal condition.

Roger Pham

In icy weather, a car will need a lot of heat for defrosting. Also, high energy level on board is safety in a snow storm, esp. if you get stuck and can freeze to death before help arrive.


We've got ways to convert electricity to methane and even room-temperature liquid fuels now.  We already have large amounts of storage and pipeline networks adequate to ship these across the nation.  We can store the required carbon, or recover it from the atmosphere either using plants or direct measures; carbon-neutrality is certainly possible.

A tank-full of 3-methyl 1-butanol stores a lot more energy than the same volume and weight of H2 tank.  It stores cheaply and easily for months or years.  It presents no leakage or explosion hazard, and would be good fuel for an SOFC or MCFC.  Why aim at hydrogen instead?

Roger Pham

To answer your question: "why is storage of H2 the "solution" to this?" the answer is simply: Because H2 is easy and cheap to make and can be made anywhere, and it has none of the serious environmental issues associated with carbon-based fuels.

I can envision a scenario in which the use of H2 can completely be avoided by incorporating carbon into the hydrogen.
Recall that the energy from waste biomass, when converted to methane, can satisfy 1/3 of transportation requirement in the USA. Let's say that future vehicles will be twice as efficient as present-day vehicles. This means that waste biomass can do 2/3 transportation needs. Next, lets add the H2 made from renewable energy into the gasification vessel to double the synthetic methane yield from the process. Now, waste biomass + renewable-energy H2 to synthetic methane can satisfy 4/3 of future transportation needs. Better yet, BEV's charged from renewable electricity and long-haul trucks and trains running off renewable electricity from overhead cables on major routes may satisfy 1/3-1/2 of transportation needs, depending on regions. The calculation is a bit messy, however, I can say that only less than 1/2 of waste biomass + renewable H2 incorporation into synthetic methane will be needed for transportation, reserving the rest for "rainy and winter days" electricity production.

So, I can see your point, we will get by, using 100% renewable energy without requiring any direct use of H2 at all. I thought about the above quite sometime ago. However, I further calculated that from a cost-effectiveness computation, methane from biomass gasification and hydrogenation will be significantly more costly than using H2 directly. The harvesting of waste biomass and chemical conversion process requires facilities that will require substantial investments that will need to amortize to the cost of the synthetic methane. The recently announced highly efficient and cost-effective hydromethanation of coal in Xinjiang can improve the cost equation if this technology can be applied to biomass hydrogen-methanation.

Furthermore, ethanol and isobutanol synthesis from waste biomass will be quite expensive, and can hardly take any renewable H2 incorporation as with synthetic methane. Methanol is easy to produce, but is highly corrosive, especially to aluminum engine. It is also highly toxic since ingestion of ~10 ml can cause blindness. Since it is miscible with water, 10ml of methanol in 500 ml of water will be quite undetectable, but very toxic. Imagine a tanker or pipeline rupture of methanol into a lake or water table (aquifiers)?
Since 2007, Indy Car racing league has switched from methanol to ethanol as fuel.

WRT Ozone depletion, methane is actually worse than H2. See the following reference:
Methane is a potent GHG with 27 times higher GWP than CO2. H2 is not a GHG.

So, instead of asking why H2, I'd like to ask: Why not H2? Direct use of H2 can reduce energy cost to 1/2 that of synthetic methane and even more when compared with synthetic liquid fuels, without all the associated environmental issues with carbon-based fuels.


I'd like you to provide documentation for the claim that electrolytic H2 is half the cost of synthetic methane, but it should probably be consolidated in this thread just to make it all easier to find.

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