Hydrogen Benefits and Considerations
Hydrogen can be produced from diverse domestic resources with the potential for near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Once produced, hydrogen generates power without exhaust emissions in fuel cells. It holds promise for economic growth in both the stationary and transportation energy sectors.
The United States imports about half of its petroleum, two-thirds of which is used to fuel vehicles in the form of gasoline and diesel. With much of the worldwide petroleum reserves located in politically volatile countries, the United States is vulnerable to supply disruptions.
Hydrogen can be produced domestically from resources like natural gas, coal, solar energy, wind, and biomass. When used to power highly efficient fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen holds the promise of offsetting petroleum currently being imported for transportation use.
Public Health and Environment
About half of the U.S. population lives in areas where air pollution levels are high enough to negatively impact public health or the environment. Emissions from gasoline and diesel vehicles—such as nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter—are a major source of this pollution. Hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles emit none of these harmful substances. Their only emission is H2O—water.
The environmental and health benefits are even greater when hydrogen is produced from low- or zero-emission sources, such as solar, wind, and nuclear energy and fossil fuels with advanced emission controls and carbon sequestration. Because the transportation sector accounts for about one-third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions (which contribute to climate change), using these sources to produce hydrogen for transportation can slash greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more about hydrogen emissions.
Hydrogen has the highest energy content by weight of any fuel, but its energy content by volume is low. This fuel property makes storing hydrogen a challenge because it requires high pressures, low temperatures, or chemical processes to be stored in small spaces. Overcoming this challenge is important for light-duty vehicles because they often have limited size and weight capacity for fuel storage.
The storage capacity for hydrogen in light-duty vehicles should enable a driving range of more than 300 miles to meet consumer needs. Because hydrogen has a low volumetric energy density compared with gasoline, storing this much hydrogen on a vehicle currently requires a larger tank than most conventional vehicles. Learn more about hydrogen storage challenges from the Fuel Cell Technologies Program.
The United States may stand to profit from hydrogen technologies. To be competitive in the marketplace, the cost of fuel cells will have to decrease substantially without compromising vehicle performance. The Department of Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program Plan projects global sales of fuel cells will grow from approximately $500 million in 2009 to $1.22 billion by 2014.