But natural gas vehicles already exist.
Sure, [for] many of the long-haul trucking companies. Navistar announced it's going to be making [liquefied natural gas, or LNG] trucks. I was at the Port of Long Beach and we saw the LNG trucks there. Clean Energy Fuels is putting in the infrastructure for LNG and putting it every 200 miles along major trucking routes. That is fantastic. Their cost is going to pay for itself in a few years, and the truckers' cost is going to pay for itself in a few years because they are running 100,000 miles a year.
But that is not true for light-duty vehicles—passenger cars—so that's where the gap is. It is very expensive to put that infrastructure like that all over. So home refueling is something of a long shot, and it's risky. If someone can come up with a technology that can do that, I think it could have a major impact on our transportation sector. It could reduce oil imports significantly if you got mass adoption of natural gas vehicles.
The same kinds of suggestions were made about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles a few years back and, of course, hydrogen can be made from natural gas. So why not hydrogen?
It's the same thing. People always talk about storing hydrogen. The best way to store hydrogen is in a hydrocarbon. In natural gas, for every atom of carbon, you've got four atoms of hydrogen. That's a hydrogen fuel. Even if you do a hydrogen-based thing, which I think is worth considering, the question is: Where does the hydrogen come from? It comes from natural gas. Well, why not just use directly the natural gas?
Now natural gas is all the rage. Five years ago we were enamored of the hydrogen economy, and in five years maybe we'll go back to nuclear. How do we implement a sustained and consistent approach to the energy problem?
We have to be clear by what we mean by a hydrogen economy. If you talk about where the hydrogen comes from, it can come from natural gas, it can come from nuclear. It can be used directly in engines, it could be used in fuel cells. One of the advantages of hydrogen is that if you were to use fuel cells, the overall system efficiency could be quite high. That's a great advantage. You can use proton exchange membrane fuel cells. You don't have to go to high temperatures.
The challenge with natural gas and fuel cells is you have to use solid oxide fuel cells. [For] solid oxide fuel cells you've got to go to high temperatures, and there are other issues for the transportation sector. I think a fuel cell is a viable option for transportation. The DoE is doing [research and development] in [its Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division], and ARPA–E is very supportive of that. We need to do that R&D, bring down the cost and provide that option. Our job is to provide options for the nation. Our job is not to decide what the business should do, that's business's role. The government's role is to provide options and create competition. And that's what we are trying to do.
What about algae? The federal government has a long and tortured history of research in algae but is, at present, back into that research.
In biofuels you have to have a portfolio approach. It started off with corn to ethanol—fine. Now there is talk about cellulose. Before that even, there was sugarcane to ethanol—great. Then there was cellulose to sugar, okay, and then to ethanol, and now to drop-in fuel. Fine, that's another approach. It's all plant-based. Algae directly to oil, that's another approach.