When cruising the Internet, looking for items of interest to a hydrogen auto audience, I stumbled upon an interesting debate from 2004 between Dr. Daniel Sperling and Dr. Joseph Romm. Sperling is the founding Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis. Romm is the founder of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions and author of The Hype About Hydrogen: Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate.
Overall, Dr. Sperling takes a positive and balanced view that hydrogen will be one of many different solutions for our country’s changing energy needs going forward. Dr. Romm, however, takes a more pessimistic view and says that we should not spend time, money and resources on developing hydrogen, but opt for other energy sources instead.
What caught my attention most is how much the hydrogen industry had changed since the summer of 2004 when the debate first took place. For instance, at this time Dr. Romm is arguing that hydrogen autos should not be developed in favor of hybrid electric autos, which in his estimation, should be more fully developed. At this time, Dr. Romm is talking as if the two are mutually exclusive and that hydrogen autos cannot also be hybrid autos.
Fast forward to today, when the trend has been to develop hydrogen autos that are also hybrid electric autos as well. For instance, Ford has even developed two autos that are plug-in electric hybrid hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (PHEH2FCV). The Ford Airstream Concept and the Ford Flexible Series Edge with HySeries Drive are both PHEH2FCVs.
Dr. Romm also argues that the hydrogen storage issue is so problematic that hydrogen autos can only achieve driving ranges that are half of conventional gasoline-powered automobiles. Fast forward to today and there are several autos such as the GM Sequel Concept that have a range of 300 miles, which is on par with most standard autos now.
And, back in 2004, Dr. Romm was arguing that hydrogen autos were too expensive with a price tag of over $1 million each and would stay that way for years to come. Fast forward to today and the price tag has come down considerably, the shear fact is that PEM fuel cell vehicles are not the only option when it comes to hydrogen autos. Some autos can burn hydrogen in their internal combustion engines, create hydrogen on demand or be retrofit to run on hydrogen. For instance, Quantum Technologies in Irvine, California will retrofit your Toyota Prius or other vehicle to run on hydrogen gas for around $50,000 or so, making this price tag nowhere near the $1 million mark quoted 3 years ago.
One of the most exciting aspects about hydrogen autos and the hydrogen industry is that the technology changes so quickly. What was seemingly sound and relevant 3 years ago, becomes outdated in a very short time. Obstacles that seemed overwhelming just a few years back are no longer hurdles at all. Also, singular ways of thinking just a few years back also give way to alternative ideas and possibilities that new times and advancing technology brings. These are exciting times we live in for hydrogen technology. With much anticipation, I’m eager to see what the next 3 years will bring as well.