A Fair and Balanced Look at Hydrogen Fuel

(Happy Fair and Balanced Friday everyone!)

A few days ago I blogged about the economics of hydrogen cars. As a follow-up, I’ve recently come across a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute on hydrogen power: Twenty Hydrogen Myths. A summary of the report’s conclusions can be found here.

The gist of the RMI report is that hydrogen fuel is extremely efficient; a hydrogen fuel-cell car is 2-3 times more efficient than a gasoline car and 1.5 times more efficient than a hybrid gas-electric car (page 11). However, hydrogen is also difficult to transport because of its low energy-to-volume ratio, so their transition strategy (page 13, published in detail here) is to distribute energy in a different form, most likely natural gas, and then generate hydrogen local to where it’s needed. Building complexes would all have their own natural-gas-to-hydrogen converters, and the hydrogen would then be used to run fuel-cells to generate electricity. Excess hydrogen would be used to refuel hydrogen-powered cars during off-peak hours. These cars would initially be in company fleets, but as the infrastructure develops RMI sees the model expanding to sell fuel to cars in the neighborhood. Ultimately, natural gas will be supplanted by renewable energies such as wind and solar as these technologies become more cost-effective.

I don’t have the expertise to judge the arguments made in the report, but on their face they sound compelling. Most of all I’m pleased with RMI’s overall message: you don’t need to choose between environmentally friendly business practices and the bottom line. Rather than argue that corporate fat-cats need to give up their profits so we can have cleaner air, RMI is creating road maps that show how businesses can improve the environment by acting in their own economic self-interest. Assuming these road maps stand the test of the market, that sounds a lot more effective (and valuable to society) than raging against the machine or trying to pass ham-handed government regulation, especially in today’s political environment.