Ford Prodigy
Abandoned too soon? The Ford Prodigy diesel-electric hybrid was developed at an estimated cost of $50 million as part of the Clinton-era Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle inspired by then Vice President Al Gore. The author argues this technology makes more sense than fuel cell vehicles.

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen vs. Hybrids and Biofuels

Should we build a hydrogen or a carbohydrate economy?

By David Morris

Both President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger have embraced a fuel-cell-powered, hydrogen-fueled transportation system. Bush declared his support in his State of the Union address in 2003, Schwarzenegger in his recent State of the State address. In March Arnold will issue an Executive Order whose goal is to have hydrogen fueling stations along all 26 of the state’s interstate highways by 2010.

For the first time in history California and Washington may be on the same page when it comes to transportation. That is what is called a good news, bad news situation.

The good news is that politicians are proposing a solution commensurate with the scale of the problem. To date policymakers have anguished over mandating efficiency improvements of a few miles per gallon or significantly reducing tailpipe emissions. A hydrogen future, at least in theory, could displace 100 percent of the petroleum needed for transportation.

The bad news is that achieving that goal in that way will be frightfully expensive and disruptive. To be successful it requires changing every feature of our transportation energy system: refineries, pipelines, storage systems, end-use devices. Fuel cells must replace combustion engines. Hydrogen stations must replace gas stations.

The capital cost to California alone will be more than $50 billion, the cost to the nation more than ten times that amount.

I applaud the audacity of those who advocate investing on a such a scale. I recommend that the same boldness be applied to a transportation strategy that promises to achieve the same environmental and national security benefits decades sooner at a fraction of the cost.

The hydrogen strategy relies on fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen fuel. The better way relies on hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrids and biofuels like ethanol.

The expense of hydrogen is often justified because it will be used in fuel cell powered cars and fuel cells are two to three times more efficient than internal combustion engines. But comparing a future technology to one that is a century old is inappropriate. Better to weigh fuel cell vehicles against the newest transportation technology, the hybrid electric vehicle(HEV).

The newest HEVs already achieve efficiencies comparable to those promised by fuel cells. They’re available now. Indeed, some models have become best sellers. As of this writing there is a two month waiting list for the new Toyota Prius. And this fall, when Toyota introduces its hybrid SUV the transportation debate may change forever. The hybrid SUV will not diminish performance nor interior room. Yet it will achieve a fuel efficiency(estimated at 40 miles per gallon) that is twice that of a comparable conventional SUV.



blog comments powered by Disqus