Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Is GM's Fuel Cell Strategy Insane?

According to an article from last week in MIT's Technology Review, General Motor's plan to move aggressively into the testing of cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells could be a waste of money and effort. Joseph Romm, executive director of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, even went so far as to call GM’s strategy “insane.”

"...GM's focus on creating a fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles could be a costly mistake as a strategy for combating global climate change and for decreasing U.S. dependence on oil, many energy experts say. The problem, these critics argue, is that powering electric vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells is both inefficient and expensive.

Hydrogen fuel must be extracted from fossil fuels or water--both energy-consuming processes. Once produced, the gas must be compressed or liquefied for distribution, and this process and the distribution itself take yet more energy. By the time the hydrogen has been delivered to the fuel cell for conversion to electricity, then, a significant amount of energy has been lost to these processes.

"Along the way, you've thrown away nearly three-quarters of the electricity. No one in their right mind would do that--if your alternative is to just string a power line from zero-carbon electricity and charge a battery onboard a car," says Joseph Romm, executive director of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, and formerly in charge of energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy.”

Romm says a more promising alternative to internal-combustion engines are plug-in hybrids, which combine an electric motor powered by batteries with a conventional gasoline- or diesel-powered engine, but rely on the electric motor far more than today's hybrids."


1 comment:

Hydro Kevin said...

General Motors also has another strategy, in that, they are also creating a home hydrogen fueling station via electrolysis, so that you can create hydrogen cleanly in the comfort of your own garage.

For those who think hydrogen is too expense to make, General Electric has just developed an electrolysis unit that will generate hydrogen for approximately $3 per gallon (comparable to gasoline).

I think the real future though, many years down the line will be in combining technologies such as plug-in hybrid hydrogen vehicles. How would this be for the ultimate clean gas-saving vehicle?