Natural gas + fuel cells = huge interim potential?
Not long ago Toyota claimed that not only have fuel cell vehicle costs dropped massively in the last few years, but that at least another 50 percent reduction was expected by 2015, bringing total costs down to about $50,000 per vehicle. Even more recently, Mercedes has claimed that by 2015 fuel cell vehicles will be cheaper to produce than electric cars according to some reports. At that rate, fuel cell vehicles could be cost-competitive with conventional vehicles by 2020 or earlier.
And while the lack of hydrogen infrastructure is still a huge and looming elephant in the room, could an embrace of natural gas change that?
OK. Let’s make one thing clear, natural gas is not the world’s oil-ending savior, but it could be a hugely important interim technology, particularly since every new survey practically doubles the already massive US supply of natural gas reserves. Even pure electric vehicle zealots are beginning to embrace natural gas as a solution to coal-powered electricity. So, why not also use natural gas to also produce hydrogen?
Because hydrogen will always take more energy to produce than it offers, that’s why.
Seriously? To pretend the book on hydrogen has been written seems extremely unscientific. In just the last few months alone, significant breakthroughs in various forms of bio-hydrogen, for instance, have been achieved. While it’s still possible that cost-effective, energy efficient hydrogen might never become a reality, there are way too many confounding variables to call such an opinion a fact. Just because humans aren’t smart enough to yet harness efficient hydrogen doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Truth be told, we humans still don’t know crap, especially when it comes to efficient energies.
Nevertheless, one thing seems clear: Assuming foreign oil can keep America competitive for several more decades is not logical.
While natural gas isn’t perfect, nor a long term option, with proper regulations and mitigations it can be far cleaner than oil. It can also be purely domestic. It can also replace dirty coal for electricity production for electric vehicles. Additionally, it could be used in every type of vehicle driven in the US today and coupled with fuel cell technologies, natural gas could be an efficient transportation fuel as better, more sustainable alternatives are developed and rolled out.
Inevitably, every bit of data available indicates that unless the oil wells simply run dry, the US will be dependent upon oil — mostly foreign — for many more decades. Isn’t it time to accept that there is no perfect solution, no silver bullet? If we accept that reality, don’t we have to accept that natural gas could be an extremely important interim resource? And if we’re going to accept natural gas, why not accept fuel cell hybrids as well?