Hydrogen: On the Horizon or Just a Mirage? 2002-01-1927
This paper contrasts “well-to-tank” costs of supplying gaseous hydrogen (GH2) transportation fuel to light-duty vehicles via steam-methane-reforming (SMR) of natural gas. One decentralized pathway (i.e., station reforming) and two centralized pathways (i.e., production in market demand centers, and production at or near resource supply centers) are considered. All pathways are likely to cost in excess of $600 billion ($18-22/GJ) at high production volumes. With limited production, the decentralized path holds promise as an initial strategy. However, unless substantial cost reductions can be achieved either in the reforming process itself or via economies of scale, it is unlikely to be cost-competitive at high volumes and may preclude other policy objectives like carbon sequestration. With increasing production, centralized production becomes the less costly. Our analyses suggest three possibilities for reducing the cost of hydrogen infrastructure: (1) development of small, low-cost station reforming technologies via partial oxidation, SMR or other processes; (2) centralized GH2 production at very large plants, perhaps using site-specific feedstock and production processes; and (3) pipeline improvements, including lower-cost dedicated pipelines, designing new natural gas pipelines to levels allowing future transport of hydrogen, and the development of gaseous product pipelines.