This doesn't mean that in time the power needed to isolate hydrogen molecules can't come from wind energy, or solar energy, or energy from biomass. It does mean that hydrogen technology isn't yet mature enough to allow energy that originates from these sources to make the production of hydrogen fuel truly renewable, environmentally friendly, or cost efficient.
How much time do we need to do that? A commercial I saw last night for a hydrogen car promised that the vehicle is ready for the world, as soon as the world is ready for it. But according to Joan Ogden, a professor at the Institute of Transportation at the University
of California, Davis, it will be "several decades" until the world is ready.
Why such a long time? A little Googling and it's easy to find out that hydrogen cars aren't exactly ready for the world either. Honda, for instance, isn't planning on selling its hydrogen car any time soon. It will be three or four more years until a version of its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the Honda FCX, will be rolled out, and then it will be available only in Japan. The car will make its debut there because that country already
has a dozen or so hydrogen fueling stations. Along with offering the consumer reliable performance from a reasonably priced hydrogen- powered car, you see, a hydrogen refueling infrastructure has got to be built so that the fellow in Cleveland who buys a Ford hydrogen car, and the gal in Madrid who buys a BMW hydrogen car, and the guy in Tokyo who takes delivery of his Honda FCX each has got a place to go to fill up the tank conveniently and at a competitive price.
Honda is taking an original tack to address the lack of hydrogen fueling stations around the world. It's developing what it calls a "Home Energy Station." Hydrogen car buyers would, in theory, purchase one of these stations along with their car and use it to make hydrogen fuel right in their own garage.
A fuel station right in my own garage? It seems too good to be true!
Well, it is.
The "Home Energy Station" is designed to be powered with—here it comes!—natural gas!
The problem of how to create clean hydrogen fuel without the use of dirty fossil fuel is just one of the ongoing technical issues carmakers face. While hydrogen cars currently are part of experimental fleets for some government agencies—the state of New York has been using them on a very limited basis since 2004—other obstacles that stand in the way of commercial versions of the vehicles include where to put the cumbersome onboard tanks needed to store the hydrogen fuel and how to assure reliable cold weather startup in a vehicle that produces water as one of its by- products—water that turns to ice when the temperature dips below 32F!
As Professor Ogden says, hydrogen-powered vehicles could be an important part of the "larger trend toward decarbonization of energy and more efficient use of resources." But that will take time. And it will take money.