Carnegie Mellon professor skeptical about use of hydrogen-fueled cars

PITTSBURGH--Hydrogen-powered cars became the nation's hot wheels during the State of the Union speech in January, when the Bush administration proposed more research and predicted that the cars could be commercially practical by 2020.

However, hydrogen-fueled automobiles will not offer a cost-effective way to reduce automotive air pollution, or reduce emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide gas, for at least several decades, according to Carnegie Mellon's David Keith, associate professor of engineering and public policy, and Alexander Farrell, an assistant professor in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. Keith and Farrell make their arguments in an article that appears in the July 18 issue of Science.

"Strong air pollutant rules and inspections, for example, could reduce air pollution at a cost roughly 100 times less than the costs associated with using hydrogen cars," Keith said. Similarly, it is much cheaper to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from large stationary sources, such as power plants that burn coal, than it is to reduce such emissions from cars, Keith said.

Keith and Farrell are not opposed to all uses of hydrogen. But, they argue, it makes far more sense to first use this fuel in ships, trains and large trucks rather than cars. Such uses could achieve large reductions in air pollution without the need for the extensive hydrogen distribution infrastructure which would be required for refueling automobiles. Such an infrastructure could easily cost as much as $5,000 per vehicle or more, according to the researchers' work.

The Bush administration has announced plans to spend $1.7 billion over five years for two hydrogen car projects: the FreedomCar, to explore making technology work in hydrogen cars, and FreedomFuel, which will study how to store, produce and deliver hydrogen. Hydrogen dispensers for cars are proposed to have the look and feel of regular gasoline pumps. Drivers would use hose

Contact: Chriss Swaney
Carnegie Mellon University

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