Local Congressman Charlie Dent is a co-founder of the House Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Caucus. He wants to convert Route 78 into a hydrogen highway. Dent's congressional website tell us "Interstate 78 is uniquely situated and suited to be a gateway to the hydrogen economy - the Hydrogen Highway East." A hydrogen network will (1) decrease our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels; (2) protect our citizens and preserve our environment from the harmful effects of vehicle emissions; and (3) mitigate traffic and congestion.
BMW is betting on hydrogen, and has produced 100 factory-made hybrids. Leave it a foreign car company to come up with another alternative fuel. Here's some details from Pogue's Posts.
I asked if hydrogen could explode (think Hindenburg). The engineers responded that in Germany, they’ve tried shooting bullets at the tank, slamming a construction girder into it, and so on; liquid hydrogen may burn, but it doesn’t blow up. In that regard, it’s actually safer in a spill situation than gasoline.
Now, I’m well aware of how hostile some critics are to the concept of hydrogen cars. Their primary objection, of course, is the amount of energy that’s consumed (and pollution generated) in producing hydrogen in the first place.
BMW agrees that hydrogen cars are pointless unless the hydrogen itself is produced using clean, renewable energy sources: solar, wind, geothermal and so on. “At the beginning, some of it’s going to be nonrenewable,” said Dr. Ochmann, “but the percentage will increase.” (In the meantime, even if fossil fuels are used in the short term, at least the byproducts of burning them can theoretically be controlled at a single source.)
Another objection raised by an audience member: What about getting fillups? Our government is making a big push toward ethanol as a new fuel (despite dubious environmental prospects), but there are still only several hundred ethanol filling stations in the entire country. Isn’t the situation even worse for hydrogen pumps?
BMW reiterated that moving to hydrogen will be a long-term proposition. At the moment, in fact, there are only three hydrogen pumps in the U.S. (California and Washington, D.C.) “It will be a difficult process,” Dr. Ochmann said: “station by station, gas company by gas company.”
The point is that, as he put it, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Many pieces have to be put in place: governmental, public, technological and legal. “We all have to move together at the same time,” he concluded.
But BMW’s point, and I agree, is that at least the technology part of the auto-fuel problem has been solved.
Yes, yes, of course, taking hydrogen to the mainstream still requires staggering amounts of investment, legislation, policy, and political will. But from a purely technological standpoint, using today’s renewable power sources and liquid hydrogen, the balance sheet for the entire cycle, from hydrogen production to driving the cars, could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by at least 90 percent, by BMW’s calculations.
Of course, BMW’s way isn’t the only way. There are many approaches to using hydrogen in cars, each with pros and cons, each exhibiting both recent breakthroughs and significant obstacles. (The Wikipedia.org entry on “hydrogen cars” offers an excellent, balanced and up-to-date presentation on the issue.)
Most car companies, in fact, are pursuing hydrogen fuel cells instead; they transform hydrogen into electricity, which then powers the car–or, in their current incarnation, underpowers it.
Plenty of people positively spit on BMW’s approach (here’s an example). But people like this are completely ignoring the fact that all of these experiments are in their earliest stages, and will improve.
Meanwhile, the biggest obstacles are presented by people’s attitudes, not technology: “Oh, that’ll never work.”
Guess what? It’s going to have to work. Sooner or later, hydrogen, or something like it, is all we’ll have to work with.