Chapter 12 Natural Gas Vehicles and Hydrogen Vehicles by po2933


									Transportation Energy Plan
Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Natural Gas Vehicles and Hydrogen Vehicles
Fossil fuel reduction potential: 0% by 2020 Cost: High Feasibility: Low

What are Natural Gas Vehicles?
Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) have internal combustion engines (ICEs) powered by natural gas instead of gasoline or diesel. Natural gas is primarily methane, though often times other hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane or butane are present. These other gases are normally removed prior to use of natural gas as a consumer fuel. NGVs often look identical to gasoline powered vehicles, but have modified ICEs and large storage tanks that carry compressed natural gas (also known as CNG, though some vehicles use liquefied natural gas, or LNG). NGVs’ main advantages are that they produce fewer emissions than gas or diesel vehicles (around a 70-90 percent reduction for some important pollutants like NOx and carbon monoxide),1 and natural gas historically has been around 30% cheaper than petroleum fuels. NGVs also produce around 30 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline cars, on a lifecycle basis, if domestic natural gas is used.2 Natural gas is also more domestically abundant than petroleum, and can be produced in limited quantities as a renewable resource from plants, waste materials or methane seeps off our coast. The main drawbacks are that NGVs are more expensive to purchase (the Civic GX costs almost 40% more than a comparable gasoline Civic), have bulky fuel tanks that reduce cargo space, have limited range, and there are limited fueling stations available. For these reasons, most of America’s 150,000 natural gas vehicles are in large equipment fleets where operators can utilize centralized fueling, often don’t need to worry about range, and can realize large public health benefits by substituting natural gas for dirty diesel engines. Individuals have the option of purchasing a new Honda Civic GX or

1 2

Natural Gas Vehicles for America, available at California Energy Commission “State Alternative Fuels Plan” December, 2007, pg 32, available at

purchasing various used sedans and trucks. Another option is converting a vehicle at a cost of around $3,000-$5,000. Other countries have embraced NGVs to a greater degree, often due to large, inexpensive domestic reserves, locally-produced conversion equipment and a growing CNG filling infrastructure. Argentina, Pakistan, and Brazil each have around 1.5 million NGVs and around 1500 filling stations, followed by Italy, with over 430,000 NGVs and over 500 filling stations.3

The Honda Civic GX The Honda Civic GX
Pictured on the prior page, The Honda Civic GX the only dedicated natural gas Pictured on the prior page, The Honda Civic GX isis the only dedicated natural gas vehicle currently sold in America. The Civic GX looks similar to other Civics, but vehicle currently sold in America. The Civic GX looks similar to other Civics, but burns natural gas instead of gasoline, making the cleanest internal combustion burns natural gas instead of gasoline, making itit the cleanest internal combustion car on the market. Honda also sells or leases a home gas dispensing device called car on the market.1 Honda also sells or leases a home gas dispensing device called Phill, which allows overnight slow filling in an individual’s garage or any other Phill, which allows overnight slow filling in an individual’s garage or any other location with natural gas access. location with natural gas access. The GX and the Civic Hybrid are some of the cleanest cars around, meeting the The GX and the Civic Hybrid are some of the cleanest cars around, meeting the EPA’s stringent Tier 2/Bin 2/PZEV standards, while the LX (gasoline model) meets EPA’s stringent Tier 2/Bin 2/PZEV standards, while the LX (gasoline model) meets the clean but not as strict Tier 2/Bin5/ULEV standards. The GX achieves 28 the clean but not as strict Tier 2/Bin5/ULEV standards. The GX achieves 28 combined gasoline gallon equivalent miles per gallon, while the LX achieves 29 combined gasoline gallon equivalent miles per gallon, while the LX achieves 29 mpg and the Hybrid 42 mpg. The 2008 Civic GX sells for $25,225, with the mpg and the Hybrid 42 mpg. The 2008 Civic GX sells for $25,225, with the comparably equipped Civic LX selling for $18,395 and the Civic Hybrid for comparably equipped Civic LX selling for $18,395 and the Civic Hybrid for $23,235, and some incentives are available for the for the GX Civic Hybrid. $23,235,tand some incentives are availableGX and the and the Civic Hybrid.

Why are natural gas vehicles relevant to reducing fossil fuel use in SB County?
While natural gas vehicles produce less pollution and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, they primarily use an alternate fossil fuel, and thus have limited opportunities to reduce fossil fuel use in Santa Barbara County. Nevertheless, natural gas is increasingly being produced from renewable, biological sources, which would allow NGVs to utilize a renewable natural gas, known as biogas. However, biogas is limited in availability, and even with increased production it may make better sense to use biogas to produce electricity, rather than develop an extensive vehicle refueling infrastructure, with all the attendant costs and challenges.

According to the International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles. Available at


Biogas is produced from biological sources and is a renewable fuel, unlike natural gas, which is a finite fossil fuel. Most biogas is a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide, and other gases produced through anaerobic digestion or fermentation of organic materials. Common sources of biogas include decomposing landfills, animal manure, wastewater treatment plants, biomass and other waste materials. This type of biogas can be purified into biomethane, which can be delivered through pipelines and used just like natural gas. If biogas is captured instead of leaking to the atmosphere, it can do double duty as a clean energy source as well as become transformed through combustion into CO2. Capturing fugitive methane is important as it is a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2. Another main type of biogas is known as wood gas, which is composed primarily of nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide. Wood gas is created through thermal gasification of woodchips, sawdust, coal, or other carbon containing materials, and was used extensively to run vehicles in Europe during World War II, when gas and diesel were in limited supply. A byproduct of wood gas production is biochar, an inert type of charcoal that can be used as a carbon sequestering soil amendment. Thus wood gas can be a carbon negative fuel, if biochar is sequestered and minimal fossil fuel inputs are used to grow the feedstock crops or wastes.

One type of biogas is called biomethane, which can be cleaned and substituted for natural gas. Sweden is a global leader in biomethane use, with 45 percent of methane coming from biological sources and five years of 20 percent annual growth rates in the industry. The country has more than 25 biomethane production facilities and 65 filling stations. Vehicle infrastructure has kept pace as well, with over 8,000 transit buses, garbage trucks, and 10 different models of passenger cars in Sweden. 4 Sweden also launched the world’s first biomethane train in 2005.5 Swedish experts believe that biomethane could provide 100 percent of domestic natural gas usage, even with a tripling of gas usage through increased gas penetration into the electricity generating and transportation sectors.6

California Resources Agency, available at 5 BBC News “Sweden Tests First Biogas Train,” June 20, 2005, available at 6 Held, Jorgen, “Marking the Growth of Sweden’s Biomethane Development,” April 2006, Swedish Gas Centre Available at



While Sweden has impressive plans for biomethane use, their strategy is dependent on gasification of forest residues from Sweden’s immense forested lands. California is a similar size as Sweden, but has four times the population (around 37 million compared to nine million) and a much greater per capita use of fossil fuels. Thus, while it makes sense to make biomethane from easily available sources like landfills and dairies, the total potential is only a fraction of natural gas usage and even less of total energy demand. It’s estimated that the practical potential biomethane production from all biodegradable sources in California is about 23 billion cubic feet per year7 (or enough to power around 420,500 Civic GX vehicles for a year8). Dairy wastes make up nearly two-thirds of this amount, as California has 1.7 million cows, more than any other state in the country. If all theoretically available feedstocks were used and better technologies were developed, the potential is five or six times greater. A DOE study showed that if all available sources were exploited, biomethane could potentially supply up to 6 percent of national natural gas demand.9 However natural gas is increasingly being used for electrical power generation, and if many natural gas vehicles were produced demand would soar even greater. Growing dedicated fuel crops for producing biomethane would be a way to expand supplies, but it is unlikely biomethane will be able to supply more than a small fraction of our national natural gas demand. At the local level, a study by UC Berkeley for the Community Environmental Council found enough municipal solid waste, agricultural and forest wastes to produce between 1.9 percent and 7.4% of Santa Barbara County’s current electrical demand.10 Municipal solid waste provides the largest potential fraction of potential energy, followed by forestry residues and agricultural residues.

Krich, Ken, et al “Biomethane from Dairy Waste, A Sourcebook for the Production and Use of Renewable Natural Gas in California” July, 2005, United Western Dairymen. Available at 8 A Honda Civic GX that travels 12,000 miles per year and gets 28 mpg uses 429 gallons gasoline equivalent. There are .1276 Mcf (thousand cubic feet) in one gallon gasoline equivalent, so an average Civic GX will use 54.69 Mcf per year. 23 billion cubic feet divided by 54.69 Mcf equals 420,552 vehicles. 9 Natural Gas Vehicles for America, available at 10 Kammen, et al. “Biopower and Waste to Energy Conversion Technologies for Santa Barbara County, California” February 2007, UC Berkeley available at



Methane Seep Tents
The Santa Barbara Channel is home to some of the most active natural methane seeps in the world. Methane and Reactive Organic Gases (ROGs) leak into the atmosphere, adding to smog problems in Santa Barbara County. In 1982, ARCO placed the world’s first methane seep tents to capture this leaking methane. The project was made economically viable due to large emission reduction credits given to project developers, valued at $4,000 per ton of ROGs. Methane captured is sufficient to power the needs of 190 homes. No new seep tents have been placed in the Santa Barbara Channel, as insufficient gas leaks out to make a new project economical. In addition, tenting natural methane seeps no longer qualifies for emission reduction credits. In 2002, this issue was looked at again by a team of UCSB Bren School graduate students and they concluded that new seep tents would not be economical, even when they included health benefits from reduced smog.

What are the barriers to higher adoption?
Infrastructure Natural gas vehicles utilize a dedicated supply infrastructure that is costly to build. Currently, California has 189 CNG stations, a large portion of the 790 stations in the US.11 New stations are expensive to build, costing around five times the cost of a gasoline station.12 Some new stations built over the last decades have seen little use and have fallen into disrepair. In addition, some CNG stations are open limited hours or only accept pre-approved customers. An appliance-sized slow fill station, Phill, can be placed in garages or other areas where access to natural gas is available. However, at a cost of around $4,000 plus installation (some rebates are available from utilities), it will take a long time for the fuel savings of currently cheaper natural gas to pay for the investment. Phill also uses some electricity to operate and has to be remanufactured after 6,000 hours of use. In addition, the Phill takes all night to fill up one vehicle, thus necessitating different arrangements for fleets. If a driver stays in the vicinity of their home while driving, limited stations to refuel may not be too much of an inconvenience. However, traveling long distances could take more

Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center, available at


National Research Council, “Review of the Research and Development Plan for the Office of Advanced Automotive Technologies,” page 53, National Academies Press, 1998. Available at _s&cad=0.


planning. While it is possible to travel around the state and around the country using available public CNG stations, drivers may have to go out of their way or carefully chart their course ahead of time. Refueling is additionally complicated by the short range of CNG vehicles, approximately half the range of gasoline counterparts. Some local governments and other agencies in our county are currently using CNG in fleets, primarily centered in the south county, where the refilling infrastructure is located (this includes one fast fill station on the lower eastside, and additional private slow fill stations). The County of Santa Barbara was an early pioneer with CNG technology, starting from the early 1990s.13 They had 10 converted Ford Tauruses as well as a few CNG trucks. The vehicles were plagued with technical problems, as well as county staff didn’t use them often, partially because they had limited range and storage, as well as staff didn’t like the hassle of going to Santa Barbara to fill the vehicles, and some people didn’t like the blowback when disengaging the nozzle from the pump. For a few years a CNG filling station was available at County operations on Calle Real, but it was taken out in the mid 90’s when the County sold all its CNG vehicles. The City of Santa Barbara has 8 CNG dual fuel trucks. In general these vehicles perform fine, though as major manufacturers have discontinued making new CNG vehicles, the City has no plans to purchase new ones. MTD studied CNG buses, but decided the economics and limited supply infrastructure didn’t work for them. Lompoc’s COLT bus service had six buses in the 1990s, but the engines wore out quickly because of the “hot gas” quality issue in our region. UC Santa Barbara has around 20 CNG cars, trucks and vans, served by five slow fill stations. These vehicles perform adequately, and UCSB has replaced vehicles with new ones as old ones are sold. Fleet managers agree that the early conversions were problematic, but later models sold by major manufacturers like Ford and GM are less problematic. Fleet managers also agree that during the 1990’s, CNG was touted as the wave of the future, but in reality, mechanical problems and limited supply infrastructure has tempered this enthusiasm. With the abandonment of the Calle Real CNG filling station and reduction in CNG vehicles available by large manufacturers, as well as the hot gas issue (quality issues, see sidebar) fleet managers are reluctant to add new CNG vehicles to their fleets. If these issues are resolved, and natural gas continues to remain cheaper than gasoline or diesel, NGVs may make a comeback in our region.


Personal communications with Paddy Langlands, then Fleet Supervisor for the County 4/11/08.


The Hot Gas Issue
Natural gas (methane) from different sources can vary in composition. In particular, natural gas from some domestic gas fields or LNG that is imported from other countries may contain natural gas with other hydrocarbons such as propane and butane, additional pollutants, or a different heat content (wobbe index). This natural gas is referred to as “hot gas.” Burning hot gas in NGVs can cause engine damage, as well as increase pollution emissions compared to normal natural gas. Natural gas in the tri-counties comes from local wellheads, often from offshore rigs. This natural gas isn’t refined and is considered hot gas. Thus, the California Air Resources Board won’t allow individuals to install home refilling units like the Phill. Newer computer controlled vehicles can handle the hot gas better than older vehicles, and because of this the CARB has given some organizations like UCSB a waiver to install slow fill units at their facilities. The Air Board is working on resolving this issue and may release a ruling soon that allows individuals to install home refilling units.

Range and bulk CNG is bulkier than liquid fuels, so a larger volume of fuel is required to travel the same distance. As an example, a natural gas Civic GX has a range of around 180-200 miles, about half the range of a gasoline powered Civic. The CNG tanks are larger as well, so trunk space is reduced by half in the natural gas Civic. Manufacturers have developed higher pressure CNG tanks, and 3,600 psi tanks can fit more natural gas in the same volume compared to 3,000 psi tanks of the past. Another option is liquefied natural gas (LNG), which offers a comparable energy density as gasoline. However, the natural gas has to be super cooled to -184 to -274 degrees F, which takes significant energy, requires expensive equipment, and a dedicated infrastructure. While LNG is sometimes used in heavy duty applications, it isn’t a realistic option for passenger vehicles. Also, the lifecycle energy requirements (and thus emissions) for LNG can be far higher than for CNG.14 If LNG is created with domestic natural gas, there is significant additional energy required for liquefaction, cooling and storage and these add to carbon dioxide emissions and criteria pollutants. If LNG is created overseas, the emissions are far higher because of the additional transportation requirements. As Figure 12.0 shows, lifecycle emissions from LNG as a source of natural gas for power generation can be as high as lifecycle emissions for coal, depending on where it comes from and other factors.


Jaramillo, P., Griffin, M., et al., “Comparative Life-Cycle Air Emissions of Coal, Domestic Natural Gas, LNG, and SNG for Electricity Generation,” Environmental Science & Technology, published online July 25, 2007. Abstract available at


Figure 12.0. Lifecycle power generation carbon dioxide emissions for coal, domestic natural gas, LNG and synthetic natural gas.

Cost Natural gas vehicles are more expensive than gasoline vehicles, often costing $7,000$10,000 more than comparable gasoline vehicles. The Civic GX costs 37 percent more ($6,830 more) than a comparably equipped gasoline Civic. However for heavy duty vehicles with much higher purchase prices (some buses or other large equipment may cost over $100,000) the price premium is smaller on a percentage basis. Some natural gas vehicle owners might also opt for the extra $4,000 expense of the Phill home fueling device. Some of this extra expense can be covered by government tax credits, currently $4,000 for a natural gas vehicle (though this credit expires at the end of 201015, and $1,000 for the Phill (some utilities offer additional credits or rebates). On the other hand, natural gas has historically been around 30 percent less expensive (and as much as 50 percent cheaper for home refueling), so lower fuel prices will reduce operating costs. As heavy duty vehicles use more fuel than light duty vehicles, the premium for a larger NGV might be paid back much more quickly. Resale costs for Civic GXs are low, as they are primarily used in large fleets that frequently dump used vehicles into the used car market. Additionally, the Phill has to be remanufactured at a cost of around $2,000 after 6000 hours of use, which may be within a few years.16 Considering all these options, it probably makes more sense for consumers that want a Civic to purchase a Civic Hybrid. The hybrid costs less up front and gets 50%
15 16

US Department of Energy, available at Phill, available at


better gas mileage, making for overall lower fuel costs while meeting the same stringent air quality standards. The Civic Hybrid also has a much higher resale value.

What are hydrogen vehicles?
Hydrogen vehicles are powered by hydrogen, the lightest, most abundant element on earth. Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source, because it doesn’t occur in a fuel-ready form on our planet – it must be derived from something else, like water or natural gas. When hydrogen is combusted or run through a fuel cell, it creates only water as a by-product, with very little or even zero tailpipe pollutant emissions. There are two types of hydrogen vehicle technologies: fuel cells that run on hydrogen and internal combustion engines (ICEs) that run on hydrogen and/or gasoline. Recently, both have received considerable attention and funding – from the auto industry and from federal and state government – and have been strongly supported by President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger as well as many leaders on the other side of the aisle. A major benefit of a “hydrogen economy,” with hydrogen cars as the centerpiece (ICEs or fuel cell cars), is that intermittent renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, could be used to cost-effectively produce hydrogen. This would allow those intermittent sources to be integrated into the energy grid and would provide a source of “green” hydrogen, as opposed to “brown” hydrogen from polluting sources such as coal, nuclear power or natural gas. In this scenario, hydrogen acts as a storage medium (essentially a battery) for intermittent sources of power, making those sources useful even when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining because the hydrogen can be used long after it is produced at the wind turbine or solar farm. Green hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis of distilled water powered by renewable electricity or via thermochemical conversion of biomass. While the promise of the hydrogen economy is exciting, there are significant problems and issues with hydrogen, and these are discussed below. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can look like any other car on the road, but work very differently. When compressed air and hydrogen from an on-board storage tank enters a fuel cell module, its electrons and protons are separated. A membrane in the cell selectively allows the protons to pass through, while the electrons are routed to provide the electricity to run a motor, provide lighting or power other electrical functions. On the


other side of the membrane, the hydrogen, minus its electrons, combines with oxygen from the air to form water and heat – with no other emissions or pollution.17 While small portable devices, such as MP3 players and cameras, will be powered by fuel cells in the near future, vehicle fuel cells remain very uneconomical. General Motors placed 100 prototype hydrogen fuel cell SUVs on the road in 2007, at a likely cost of $1 million each.18 Although these costs will come down with mass production, we’re still a long way from widespread availability for these vehicles. Although Toyota and GM predict commercial availability in 2010 and 2012, respectively, many industry watchers are skeptical that this time frame will be met. Honda is the first manufacturer to allow ordinary consumers a chance to drive a fuel cell vehicle with the FCX Clarity. This vehicle is being leased in small numbers to Torrance, Santa Monica, and Irvine residents for $600/month and 3 year leases. Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine Cars These cars run on either compressed hydrogen gas, liquefied hydrogen (at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit) or on gasoline. The advantage of a hydrogen internal combustion engine car is its dual fuel potential. Essentially, the engine is similar to today’s engines but can run on either fuel. This technology is considered more likely than hydrogen fuel cell cars to be affordable in the next decade or so because it will adapt many existing engine technologies instead of requiring wholesale change, as fuel cells will. However, ICE hydrogen cars are much less efficient than hydrogen fuel cell cars. They also produce small amounts of nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide, which is not the case with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. BMW placed 100 prototype hydrogen internal combustion engine cars on the road in 2007. Drivers of these test vehicles report that BMW’s prototype – the Hydrogen 7 – is responsive and powerful, but significant problems remain with fuel storage. Although mass-produced hydrogen vehicles and the associated fueling infrastructure may be many years to decades away, California is an important testing ground for hydrogenfueled vehicles. The creation of the California Hydrogen Highway Network, initiated by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004, seeks to establish an infrastructure for hydrogen fueling for vehicles and other energy users.19 The California Fuel Cell Partnership is a partnership of car manufacturers, energy companies, technology companies, and government working in a collaborative manner to advance fuel cell technology.20 As of early 2008, California had about 200 hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles and buses on the road, with 24 hydrogen fueling stations (and 15 more planned) clustered around the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay/Sacramento area. This demonstration network of

17 18

California’s Hydrogen Highway, online at Green, Jeff. “GM to Put 100 Hydrogen-Run Vehicles on the Road by 2007,” Sept. 18, 2006, LA Times. 19 California Hydrogen Highway, online at 20 California Fuel Cell Partnership, online at


hydrogen vehicles has logged over a million miles in a variety of different driving conditions, geography, and climates.21

Why are hydrogen vehicles relevant to reducing fossil fuel use in Santa Barbara County?
Hydrogen vehicles have the potential to provide mobility entirely powered by renewable energy and with zero tailpipe emissions. While this idea is powerful, many barriers stand in the way and this hydrogen economy may be multiple decades away. Currently, it is much more economical to make hydrogen from natural gas, thus any hydrogen vehicles in the immediate future will use a fossil fuel. However, since they use a fuel cell and electric motor to efficiently process this energy, hydrogen vehicles promise excellent gasoline equivalent mileage – Honda calculates the FCX Clarity at around 68 mpg equivalent.22 If large numbers of these efficient vehicles could be produced at a reasonable price, hydrogen vehicles could reduce fossil fuel use by virtue of their efficiency. However, due to the barriers discussed below, in the near future it is unlikely we will see many of these vehicles on the road at a reasonable price.

Barriers to hydrogen vehicles
Cost Hydrogen vehicles are currently very expensive, even after decades of work by auto manufacturers. While rigorous public figures are not available, analysts estimate that the current crop of hand built hydrogen test vehicles cost about $1,000,000 each.23 Industry leaders believe that with mass production, prices could come down to a similar price as gasoline cars. However, as hydrogen vehicles will not be mass produced until an adequate and expensive refueling infrastructure is in place, the industry faces a difficult “chicken or egg” scenario, with government and manufacturers hesitant to invest enormous sums of money for an uncertain outcome. Lack of Infrastructure Hydrogen vehicles will require a substantial investment in infrastructure. While there are 24 hydrogen refueling stations in California, with 15 more planned, most of these stations have the capacity to provide fuel for only a few vehicles per day. The California Hydrogen Highway reports that an initial, low volume network of 150-200 stations throughout California would cost $75-200 million.24 Estimates on the costs of a more complete hydrogen infrastructure are hampered by a lack of published data on costs of current

21 22

Ibid. Honda, available at 23 CNN, “Honda FCX” available at 24 California Hydrogen Highway, online at


hydrogen stations. Many stations exceed budget amounts, sometimes by multiples.25 A 2002 Argonne National Laboratory study estimated the cost of a national hydrogen infrastructure capable of serving 100 million vehicles (about 40 percent of the passenger vehicles in the US) at around $500 billion.26 The primary costs will be for fueling stations and an expensive network of pipelines or pressurized transportation vehicles to transport the hydrogen. The same study found that with current technology, hydrogen prices are likely to be twice the price of gasoline. It is also very important to note that as prices of natural gas (“brown hydrogen,” the current and near future primary feedstock for hydrogen production) increase, hydrogen becomes more expensive to produce. The price for “green hydrogen” from water and renewable electricity will come down as the cost of renewable electricity continues to decrease. Producing Hydrogen One problem with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles arises from how the hydrogen fuel is created. From an environmental perspective, hydrogen would ideally be created through electrolysis of water, using renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. However, large amounts of energy are lost when hydrogen is created with electricity, through electrolysis, and then converted back to electricity in a fuel cell for use in vehicles. In fact, the process is only about 22 percent efficient in a comprehensive Well to Tank analysis, meaning 78 percent of energy is lost, which is even less energy efficient than making hydrogen from natural gas (which is 30 to 50 percent efficient).27 It would be far more efficient to simply use the electricity to directly fuel an electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle – which will probably be widely available and affordable more quickly than hydrogen vehicles will be. Because most hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles will probably come from natural gas for the foreseeable future (a hydrogen source considerably less desirable than water electrolysis using renewable electricity), this problem is not serious in the short-term. However, because we view renewable “electrification” on a massive scale as the most promising means for weaning our region off petroleum, we don’t see hydrogen vehicles as particularly promising due to the waterto-hydrogen-to electricity conversion inefficiency problem. Range and Bulk Hydrogen, the lightest element, has high energy content per unit of mass, but low content per unit of volume. Current storage options are to compress hydrogen into pressurized storage tanks or to liquefy it to minus 423º F. Both methods use energy for transformation

Weinert, Jonathan X. “A Near-Term Economic Analysis of Hydrogen Fueling Stations,” 2005. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-05-04. Online at 26 Mintz, et al. “Cost of Some Hydrogen Fuel Infrastructure Costs,” January 2002. Argonne National Lab report, online at 27 “Well-to-Tank Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Transportation Fuels – North American Analysis, “June 2001, by General Motors Corp., Argonne National Laboratory, BP, ExxonMobil, and Shell. Vol. 3, Page 59 Available at,%2008-23-01.pdf.


of the gas, require bulky storage, require expensive pressurized or highly insulated tanks, and don’t currently allow enough hydrogen to be stored on a typical passenger vehicle to power the 250+ mile range that consumers expect.28 While liquefying hydrogen enables the least bulky transport, the process has additional drawbacks such as a significant use of energy. Even with an extremely highly insulated fuel tank, the BMW Hydrogen 7 car requires up to one third of the energy in each tank to keep the hydrogen fuel liquid. If the engine isn’t turned on every day, the fuel warms up and substantial amounts slip out of the tank as “boil off.” If the car sits for nine days, it loses half of the fuel in the tank.29 Other promising storage technologies use chemicals such as sodium borohydride, a salt similar to borax, to store hydrogen in a solid or aqueous form. Sodium borohydride is a non-toxic salt that is reacted with a catalyst to form hydrogen and sodium borahydrate, a recyclable non-toxic byproduct. Solid storage is promising, yet technological advances in fuel recycling and identifying less caustic liquid stabilizing agents for the catalyst reaction need to be made.30

The Action Plan
While natural gas and hydrogen vehicles are seen by some alternative fuel advocates as worthy technologies to continue developing, many argue that scarce research and development money should be focused on other, more promising, technologies. Natural gas vehicles using traditional natural gas don’t comport well with CEC’s goal of “Fossil Free by ’33”. Any biomethane that is produced could be more easily and efficiently used in on site microturbines at businesses, schools or government agencies; or at centralized electrical “peaker” plants instead of more expensive natural gas vehicles and a costly and redundant fueling infrastructure. An increasingly mainstream position among alternative fuel proponents is that hydrogen vehicles are flashy distractions from tackling our transportation challenges head on. Currently, hydrogen vehicles primarily use a fossil fuel-derived fuel, are extremely expensive, and would require development of an extensive and expensive distribution and refueling infrastructure. Other technologies like hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery electric vehicles will likely provide much more environmental and social benefit in a timely manner and with much less cost. If transformative breakthroughs occur in either biomethane or hydrogen production (such as recent research that uses microbes to efficiently produce hydrogen), these fuels could become worthy of more wide scale development. However, issues of expensive infrastructure costs and range and bulk limitations will remain. Instead of pursuing these

US Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Hydrogen Program, online at 29 Wust, Christian, The Spiegel, “Not as Green as it Seems,” 11/17/06. Online at,1518,448648,00.html. 30 Daimler Chrysler, online at,,0-5-7153-1-75938-1-0-0-0-0-0-243-71450-0-0-0-0-0-1,00.html.


costly distractions, it makes sense to continue to increase the efficiency of our gasoline and diesel vehicles, and transition to hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery electric vehicles. These technologies are rapidly progressing and an infrastructure of standard electrical sockets is already available.


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