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MIT study: Hydrogen car no environmental panacea

Even with aggressive research, the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle will not be better than the diesel hybrid (a vehicle powered by a conventional engine supplemented by an electric motor) in terms of total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, says a study recently released by MIT's Laboratory for Energy and the Environment (LFEE).

And while hybrid vehicles are already appearing on the roads, adoption of the hydrogen-based vehicle will require major infrastructure changes to make compressed hydrogen available. If we need to curb greenhouse gases within the next 20 years, improving mainstream gasoline and diesel engines and transmissions and expanding the use of hybrids is the way to go.

These results come from a systematic and comprehensive assessment of a variety of engine and fuel technologies as they are likely to be in 2020 with intense research but no real 'breakthroughs.' The assessment was led by Malcolm A. Weiss, LFEE senior research staff member, and John B. Heywood, the Sun Jae Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of MIT's Laboratory for 21st-Century Energy.

Release of the study comes just a month after the Bush administration announced a billion-dollar initiative to develop commercially viable hydrogen fuel cells and a year after establishment of the government-industry program to develop the hydrogen fuel-cell-powered 'FreedomCar.'

The new assessment is an extension of a study done in 2000, which likewise concluded that the much-touted hydrogen fuel cell was not a clear winner. This time, the MIT researchers used optimistic fuel-cell performance assumptions cited by some fuel-cell advocates, and the conclusion remained the same.

The hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle has low emissions and energy use on the road--but converting a hydrocarbon fuel such as natural gas or gasoline into hydrogen to fuel this vehicle uses substantial energy and emits greenhouse gases.

"Ignoring the emissions and energy
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Contact: Nancy Stauffer
stauffer@mit.edu
617-253-3405
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
10-Mar-2003


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