1994-03-01

Hydrogen as an Alternative Automotive Fuel: 1993 Update 940766

In 1981, one of us authored an SAE Paper - Hydrogen as an Alternative Automotive Fuel [1] and concluded that although the hydrogen fuel/vehicle system was technically feasible, it was not competitive with other alternative fuel/vehicle systems and predicted that hydrogen would not be used as an automotive fuel in this century. The current paper revisits the subject 12 years later. In 1981, energy concerns were dominant, and coal-based synthetic fuels were viewed as viable alternatives to petroleum and natural gas, which were predicted to become scarce and very expensive. Today, environmental issues are crucial and global warming concerns will probably limit the future use of coal, and petroleum and natural gas are cheaper than they were in 1981. The paper examines advances in hydrogen production, distribution, on-board storage and use as an automotive fuel in internal combustion engines (ICE) and fuel cell electric vehicles. It also considers tailpipe and overall CO2 emissions. Hydrogen ICE vehicles are less attractive than competing battery electric vehicles and natural gas ICE vehicles. Fuel cell vehicles are theoretically more attractive, but face technical challenges which will bar them as a prospect for automotive applications before 2010 at the earliest. Setting up a large-scale hydrogen fuel infrastructure will be extremely expensive and will take decades. Therefore, it is concluded that hydrogen will not be used as an automotive fuel before the year 2020.

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