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Should Hydrogen Fuel Be the Future Energy Source for Transportation?

| April 1, 2014 | 26 Comments
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A car powered by hydrogen.  Photo by U.S. Department of Energy

A car powered by hydrogen.
Photo by U.S. Department of Energy


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Do Now

Should government funds support the development of hydrogen fuel stations over other green transportation initiatives? Why or why not?

Introduction

Since the first Earth Day event in 1970, there’s been major progress in environmental stewardship–the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water Act, an increased number of recycling programs, and even curbside composting in some places, like San Francisco. Now, Earth Day has become a global initiative with countries all over the world participating and bringing environmental issues to the forefront of public discourse.

This year’s Earth Day theme is Green Cities. One way to make cities greener is by decreasing emissions from transportation. Hybrid cars and electric vehicles, like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, have provided consumers with low-emission and no-emission alternatives to traditional gas guzzlers. Car companies are now introducing another alternative–the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. A few hundred hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, including some city buses, already operate on California roads.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars run on hydrogen gas and emit only water out of the tailpipe. These cars can go roughly 200 miles between fill ups, offering an advantage to electric vehicles, which usually go about 80 miles before needing to recharge. However, the lack of hydrogen fueling stations is a major roadblock to widespread use of the car. To help combat this problem, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, has promised 20 million dollars per year until 2024 to build at least 100 hydrogen fueling stations.

However, some people question whether government funds should be used to improve this infrastructure since there are no guarantees consumers will actually buy hydrogen fuel cell cars, especially with electric vehicles gaining popularity. Others argue that electric vehicles have their limitations as well, such as a limited driving range and lack of public charging stations, and that the government should invest in hydrogen fueling infrastructure to help consumers transition to zero emission vehicles more easily.

What do you think? Should the government invest in hydrogen fueling stations over other environmentally friendly transportation initiatives such as improving public transportation or providing more places to charge electric vehicles? What other information would you want to know before making this decision?

Resource

KQED QUEST video segment Highway to Hydrogen
This video explores hydrogen fuel cell cars and California’s plan to get more on the road.


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowFuel

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets. You can visit our video tutorials that showcase how to use several web-based production tools. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.


More Resources

NPR story Move Over Electric Car, Auto Companies To Make Hydrogen Vehicles?
Richard Harris takes a ride in a hydrogen fuel cell car and explores this technology.

Green Car Reports article Can Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles Compete With Electric Cars
A look at challenges that hydrogen fuel cell cars and electric cars are facing.

San Jose Mercury News article California’s struggling ‘hydrogen highway’ plan gets new life — and drivers will pay
Twenty million dollars per year of vehicle registration fees until 2024 will be used to support the construction of around 100 hydrogen fuel stations in California.


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Category: Do Now: Science

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About the Author ()

Lauren Farrar has a background in biology, education, and filmmaking and is a science education interactive media producer at KQED. She enjoys good weather, good food, and good times.
  • Celeste McBride

    I think that the government should invest in hydrogen fuel cell cars because in America we have a cultural attachment to driving, even when we live in urban areas. It is an incredibly complex issues to get Americans to stop driving. I also think that if we made hydrogen fuel more available, vehicles that use those fuels would follow.

  • Alberto Garcia

    I believe the government should invest in hydrogen fuel cell cars and electric vehicles because a lot of people prefer to drive a car over other forms of transportation.

  • Nathan Cao

    In today’s society, the majority of the population uses cars. They are by far the easiest and most reliable form of transportation. No other form of transportation even comes close to competing with cars. With this in mind, I feel the government should invest in these hydrogen fuel cell cars, because they ARE the future. When we run out of fossil fuels, we can always fall back on these hydrogen fuel cells.

    • Caelen Smith

      I’m sorry to be so blunt about this but you are wrong. Hydrogen
      is not a viable form of fuel and most likely will never be. Hydrogen is not
      stable, quite to the contrary it is very unstable, hence why we build atomic
      bombs out of it (this is an article about how detonation of one of these nuclear
      devices could affect the world http://planet.infowars.com/science/the-atomichydrogen-bomb-is-more-powerful-than-you-can-believe
      ). Hydrogen cars on the market now have
      protective shells around the actual fuel cell that stops them from wiping out
      the entire neighborhood when you get in a fender-bender, however there are no such protection that anyone can come up with for transporting liquid hydrogen, making transportation very dangerous. We also have less hydrogen than we have fossil fuels, and the way you make hydrogen through a process called hydrolysis, and high school chemistry will tell us energy can never be created or destroyed. To create hydrogen you must run electric current through water, water is not the best
      conductor ever there for energy is lost as heat making the amount of energy you would get from the hydrogen created would be less than the energy you put in. Where would we get the energy to create it? By burning fossil fuels. I want to find a clean burning alternative to fossil fuels as the next person but
      hydrogen isn’t the answer.

      More information about the problems of hydrogen:

      http://auto.howstuffworks.com/fuel-efficiency/hybrid-technology/hydrogen-cars3.htm

  • Harrsion Walley

    No, I don’t think that hydrogen cars should be the cars of the future because the amount of time, money, and effort required to install enough hydrogen stations for the hydrogen cars to be efficient would be too great.

  • Cheyenne Blalock

    I don’t think that Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles should be the cars of the future. The amount of money just to buy it isn’t worth the car itself. Plus the ONLY place that you can refuel the car is in Southern California. For now electric cars are the better choice.

  • 5th Period English I

    I think that going through with the Hydrogen cars is a bad idea causer it is way to expensive. If we spend all this money on Hydrogen fueling stations, then we won’t have any money. “It’s far cheaper to wire that last 50 feet than it is to spend 1 million dollars to construct 1 hydrogen fueling station.” Even the cars themselves are close to 100,00 dollars and that is just ridiculous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 7th Period English I

    I believe we should start using these cars because there will not be so much pollution in the air. If we use them, it will decrease global warming, and we will not run out of oil.

  • 7th Period English I

    I think hydrogen should not be the energy source for transportation. Not all people can afford a fuel cell car, and it would be too difficult to switch everyone in America from gas to hydrogen.

    • Ty Sweno

      With the way technology is being developed soon these hydrogen cars will be the cost of a electric car or a normal gas car in no time. It would take quite a few years but eventually everyone is going to have to switch from gas cars to something like electric or hydrogen cars because of the depletion of all of the worlds oil reserves. The more people start to get interested in such technology the more people will put into the production of hydrogen cars making to cost of hydrogen cars to go down. Back when the first gas cars were being made they were expensive too but look at them now, you can find them for 1000 dollars or less. http://www.npr.org/2014/01/02/259222659/move-over-electric-car-auto-companies-to-make-hydrogen-vehicles As said in this article the more people see how well preforming and stylish these cars are the more people are willing to pay the extra buck for them

  • RobinHood82

    I think we need more information before making a decision. The article says that electric vehicles are gaining popularity, so therefore people won’t buy hydrogen powered cars. However, we don’t know how much popularity they have, and how ameable and receptive the public would be to a new type of car.

  • FresnoRaisin97

    I think this is a tough little problem the government has on its hands. One question I have to ask is: if these cars can go so far without filling up, then why do we need so many more stations? I suppose that last question was half sarcastic, but at the same time the government, in the past, has let the public bully it into wasting taxpayer money. Take, for example, the temporary bike path for bikers to use to access the path on the new bay bridge. It cost somewhere in the range of (if I remember correctly) about 10 million dollars for less than a year of use. Bikers couldn’t just wait like 200 days for something a little more permanent? I think it would be great if more people started driving these little cars, but one thing I worry about is that it could turn into another excuse for somewhat selfish (one could say) people to get what they want right away because they are impatient.

  • Nick V

    I believe that hydrogen fuel could be a productive way to power cars in the future, however as of right now the lack of hydrogen refueling stations makes this difficult to accomplish. A great alternative that has already been around for a few years is electricity. There are 84 electric charging stations in the U.S. capable of charging Tesla electric vehicles. In 2015, 98% of the U.S. and parts of Canada will be able to use these chargers.
    If the Governor invests in electric charging stations the popularity of electric cars should increase and they will be more useful because of the stations. Electric cars are the way of the future because of the ground work that has already been laid, and if California concentrates on electricity they will become more popular.

  • Keith Malone

    Correction: The fuel cell electric cars that Toyota and Honda will sell in 2015 get about 300 miles on a fill up. The Tucson fuel cell that Hyundai will begin leasing in June gets 300 miles on a fill-up, too. California has 14 fuel cell electric buses that are in daily operation (Bay Area and Coachella Valley). Clarification: I work for the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

  • Arthur

    First, most hydrogen is obtained by steam reformation of natural gas. Carbon dioxide is the byproduct of that process.

    Second, when hydrogen is produced by clean energy, such as electrolysis, the hydrogen operates as a kind of battery. That is, it is a form of energy storage, not an independent source of energy.

    Third, hydrogen is transported to fueling stations in liquid form. It is dispensed in highly compressed form. A lot of electrical energy is used to compress the hydrogen, and all of that compression energy is wasted. That energy can fuel an electric car directly, with little loss. According to http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/9013_energy_requirements_for_hydrogen_gas_compression.pdf it takes 10-13 kWh to compress 1 kg of hydrogen (H2) to liquid form. That will drive a typical electric car 30-40 miles, not even using the hydrogen!

    Fourth, fuel cell cars ARE electric vehicles. They are like extended range electric vehicles in that they have batteries (if only to capture the energy of regenerative breaking), and a fuel cell for extended range instead of a gasoline engine.

    Fifth, in terms of energy storage, Lithium Ion batteries are much more efficient that electrolysis->compression->fuel cell.

    Sixth, I like the idea of fueling my car at home instead of having to go to the gas station.

    Seventh, while a plug-in Prius is NOT a regular electric vehicle, but a PHEV or EREV, it gets comparable mileage on a gallon of gas than that quoted for the fuel cell car. A kg of H2 (about one gasoline gallon equivalent) has the stored energy of about 33kWh. A typical electric car can go about 100 miles on that about of electricity, not the 50 of so miles for the fuel cell vehicle. Note that the compression energy of that kg of H2 hasn’t been considered in that calculation.

    Eighth, the two million dollars for a single hydrogen fueling station would pay for 40 DC Quick Charge stations for battery electric vehicles, or over 200 Level 2 charging stations for battery electric vehicles.

  • Alex M

    Governments should invest in these hydrogen cars, but not too heavily. Electric cars are already rabidly growing in popularity, and these cars may end up being better options than hydrogen cars. The research and experimentation should still be done, however. Both types of cars seem like environmentally conscious options, but what makes electric cars more attractive is that the charging stations are free or cheap, while hydrogen is similarly priced to gas.

    https://www.mbusa.com/mercedes/benz/green/electric_car

    http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger

  • Guest

    After watching the video shown above, and doing some of my own reading, I think hydrogen fuel cell cars, are quite an advancement in the industry. The future of fuel efficiency lies in the hands of hydrogen. Not only does it provide an adequate power source for a car to travel a good distance, but

  • Maliha M

    We have to study everything that will be affected by these cars. It will take a ton of money, a ton more to make and maintain these cars, and a environmentally safe way to dispose of the discarded cars. It is a very promising alternative! Although the electric cars are making a big splash. We never know how the market with be in 25 years. Plus they both run on electricity essentially. They are very similar and I’d need more evidence to make a decision.

  • Caroline P

    Hydrogen is the fuel of our future. Considering hydrogen is the most abundant resource, and the most beneficial for our environment, I think our nation should take this into consideration and pass laws requiring the production of hydrogen fueling stations, as well as mass transportation relying on hydrogen. The largest problem with hydrogen fuel succeeding is the presence of oil companies. Oil is one of the largest sources for transportation, and also the least healthy for our planet. Big oil companies and oil representatives will do anything to halt the production of hydrogen as a fuel for transportation. Hydrogen superseding oil is scary for large oil companies due to the fact that it threatens their jobs. The government and the oil companies also have a vital connection that would prevent the government from enacting laws to pass hydrogen as our primary fuel. Overall, the advantages outweigh the downfalls of hydrogen fuel and in the future I believe oil will no longer be as prominent as it is now.

  • Nikki J.

    I think once we establish a more stable path for hydrogen cars, then we can continue to make more stations for these cars. People need to become more educated on the benefits on hydrogen cars. No one is going to buy them just because they emit less toxins. The more beneficial facts that back up hydrogen cars, the better. Costs are a little high and our government may think that our money should go somewhere else. If the creators behind these cars can improve on their technology and make it known to the world just how much good these cars can do, then the government can be reasoned with to eventually start putting more money into developing a wider range of cars and stations. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303743604579353251333111522

  • Francesca Botto

    After watching the video shown above, and doing some of my own reading, I think hydrogen fuel cell cars, are quite an advancement in the industry. The future of fuel efficiency lies in the hands of hydrogen. Not only does it provide an adequate power source for a car to travel a good distance, but it also only emits water and heat: two things that can go back into the atmosphere without a negative impact. The thing with hydrogen cars is that the switch to them may be rather difficult and take a lot of time. In addition, the oil industry and gas station are made up of many employees who could potentially lose their job.

  • Jae Hun

    I guess governments should support these hydrogen cars in order to reduce some pollutions. Governments should be aware of how people think because some people might like the idea and some might not. So, they shouldn’t spend a lot of money on it, unless they are sure that most of people will like it and are willing to use the hydrogen car.

  • Daniel Voytovich

    The government has supported oil companies for years, supporting the best interests of oil companies at times. Funding, along with wars have favored the interests of oil companies, and it is time the US spread some wealth to the low-emission industry of cars. Low-emission vehicles are the way of the future in the United States, however they need the funding that will allow a person in a low-emission vehicle to drive from one coast to the other using convenient fill-up stations. This will only happen if the US government begins investing time and money into the low-emission vehicle industry.

  • Arthur

    Hydrogen fuel cells is the fuel of the future and always will be (as contrasted with the fuel of the present). Hydrogen is an inefficient carrier for electricity, compared with batteries. While hydrogen may be plentiful, that is bound in things like water. But it is expensive and requires much energy to extract the hydrogen used for the fuel cells. And that hydrogen must be compressed, using even more energy.

    Instead, we should migrate to battery electric vehicles. They are already catching on, and they will get better (cheaper, longer range) much quicker.

  • Arthur

    Daniel, who do you think is behind hydrogen and opposed to battery electric vehicles? The fossil fuel companies, as they know that the overwhelming majority of hydrogen is made from fossil fuels and it will keep us going to their fueling stations.

    In contrast, we can power our electric vehicles from our solar panels and avoid the fossil fuel companies altogether.

  • Cassie

    The major barrier to a hydrogen economy is storage.
    While hydrogen offers many storage possibilities (compressed gas, cryogenic liquid hydrogen, and solid-state storage are the main options), none of these current possibilities are very efficient. In some cases, only 25% of the
    energy in the original hydrogen produced is available for use at the end of the
    chain of storage, delivery, and hydrolysis (Bossel).