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 in a fuel cell, emitting only water vapor and warm air. It holds promise for growth in both the stationary and transportation energy sectors.
The United States relies heavily on foreign oil to power its transportation sector. Transportation accounts for about 71% of the U.S. petroleum consumption and our country imported about 33% of the petroleum it consumed in 2013. 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 in transportation.
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 and 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 and warm air.
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’s energy content by volume is low. This makes storing hydrogen a challenge because it requires high pressures, low temperatures, or chemical processes to be stored compactly. 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.
To be competitive in the marketplace, the cost of fuel cells will have to decrease substantially without compromising vehicle performance. See the Department of Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Office Plan for plans and projections for the future of hydrogen and fuel cells.