Hydrogen cars and the whole hydrogen economy will take off by using less hydrogen. This statement may sound like an internal contradiction, so let me explain. In the U. S., we don’t like to conserve energy, but we do like to have technology conserve energy for us.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs are a prime example of letting the technology do the conservation instead of the consumer. The same concept will be true for hydrogen cars as well.
The largest impediment to rolling out hydrogen cars nationwide will be the building of a vast hydrogen infrastructure. In 2002, the Argonne National Laboratory estimated that a nationwide rollout of hydrogen infrastructure would cost $500 billion.
But, these numbers are based upon rolling out hydrogen to all 170,000 gas stations nationwide at the current price of a hydrogen fueling station in 2002 and based upon the gasoline usage of vehicles in 2002.
Newer estimates by Direct Technologies put this figure at $2.9 billion per 2,500 stations or $197 billion for all stations nationwide. But, these numbers are still based upon the assumption that hydrogen cars will be consuming as much hydrogen as gasoline-powered cars today are consuming gasoline and that hydrogen must be in all stations nationwide.
Both of these assumptions are false. By combining technologies with hydrogen cars such as hybrid electric technology or especially plug-in hybrid technology, this will conserve a vast amount of hydrogen.
If hydrogen cars were to use much less fuel than gasoline-powered cars, this would mean a smaller rollout of hydrogen to fewer stations nationwide would be needed. Less hydrogen would need to be produced and distributed under this scenario.
So, when the time comes, a few years down the road for a hydrogen rollout, the rollout may be more of a whimper than a bang in regard to its scale. Like any big change, there will be growing pains. But, the pains will be tolerable and even welcomed in securing the greater goal of energy independence.