Thursday, March 6, 2008

Our Hydrogen Future Still Distant

New Power
New Power

Nov. 19, 2007 -- The United States hopes to fill American roads with hydrogen-powered cars in two decades, but the clean fuel must be cheap and practical to make before it can replace oil, U.S. experts say.

President George W. Bush unveiled a 1.2-billion-dollar initiative in 2003 to reverse U.S. dependence on foreign oil and make hydrogen, which emits zero pollution, the fuel that drives the U.S. economy.

"That was ambitious," said Timothy Wilkins, an attorney of the firm Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, based in Texas, who specializes in environmental and energy regulation.

"I think in a century hydrogen could fill a role like that, but not in 20 years," Wilkins said, adding that the Bush administration was no longer as vocal about the plan as it used to be.

"To produce it like the gasoline scale, to get it in the vehicle fleet, fully integrated in the vehicle fleet and the infrastructure the fueling, will take one century," he said.

While hydrogen has more energy power than oil, methanol and natural gas, its lightness makes it very difficult to stock and transport.

Universities, oil companies and automakers, as well as the U.S. Energy Department, are investing in research to find better ways to produce hydrogen, most of which today is generated from non-renewable fossil fuels such as natural gas.

Pennsylvania State University researchers recently developed a method of producing hydrogen gas by combining electron-generating bacteria and a small electrical charge in a microbial fuel cell.

"In an extreme scenario, hydrogen has the capabilities technically to become a universal source of energyĆ¢€¦but the big deal is economics," Jerry Hinkle, the president of the National Hydrogen Association.

Hydrogen can be produced from a wide range of sources including natural gas, coal, water, wind, nuclear power and biological methods, Hinkle said.

The hydrogen fuel cell technology show the most promise in the short term, he said, adding that U.S. auto giant General Motors predicts the production of competitive and high-performance fuel cell cars in 2010-2012.

In the meantime, automakers are launching hydrogen-powered prototypes.

Honda announced Wednesday that it would offer a hydrogen-powered car in the United States next year, the zero-emissions FCX Clarity, to customers on a limited long-term lease basis for a cost of around 600 dollars a month.

"The FCX Clarity is a shining symbol of the progress we've made with fuel cell vehicles and of our belief in the promise of this technology," said American Honda chief executive Tetsuo Iwamura.

"We are working to overcome obstacles to the mass-market potential of zero emissions hydrogen fuel cell automobiles," Iwamura said at the LA Auto Show.

BMW has also developped a 7 Series model that can run either on hydrogen or gasoline.

If half of cars circulating in the United States run with hydrogen fuel by 2050, oil imports would drop by two-thirds, reducing the emission of harmful greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

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