-- A public-private effort to develop more fuel-efficient
automobiles and eventually introduce hydrogen as
a transportation fuel is well-planned and identifies
all major hurdles the program will face, says a new
report from the National Academies' National Research
Council. Many technical barriers must be overcome
and new inventions will be needed, but the program,
which was launched three years ago, has already made
an excellent start, said the committee that wrote
"The goals of this program are extremely challenging and success is uncertain,
but it could have an enormous beneficial impact on energy security and the U.S.
economy," said Craig Marks, committee chair and retired vice president for technology
and productivity, AlliedSignal Inc., Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "Although it is
still too early to speculate whether the program will achieve its long-term vision,
it is making significant headway."
The FreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research) and Fuel Partnership, a research
collaboration among the U.S. Department of Energy, the Big Three automakers,
and five major energy companies, seeks to develop emissions-free and petroleum-free
vehicles. The program includes the President's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative -- initiated
in 2003 to develop technologies for hydrogen production and distribution -- and
is a successor to the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a collaboration
between federal agencies and automakers during the Clinton administration.
The long-term goal of the partnership is to develop technology that will help
automakers decide by 2015 whether it is possible to manufacture and sell hydrogen-powered
vehicles on a large scale. To achieve this goal, the program's partners are examining
cost-efficient and safe ways to produce hydrogen from traditional and renewable
energy sources, distribute it via filling stations, store it in vehicles, and
convert it to electricity with fuel cells. The program also sponsors research
to reduce the size, weight, and cost of all of the vehicle components needed.
While pursuing these goals, the program is exploring technology that, in the
short term, will provide more efficient and less polluting combustion engines,
as well as electric batteries that could be used in hybrid vehicles with either
fossil fuel- or hydrogen-powered engines.
The program's most difficult long-term challenge is hydrogen storage in vehicles,
the report says. Hydrogen, whether gas or liquid, takes up more space than gasoline,
requiring large, heavy tanks and frequent refueling. Commercially viable fuel
cells with the desired performance, durability, and cost are another major challenge.
Also, appropriate hydrogen filling stations will need to be designed and widely
deployed. DOE should pay special attention to challenges and technological innovations
that will arise during the shift from petroleum to hydrogen as a transportation
fuel, in order to set goals and foster technologies that would speed the transition
to a mature hydrogen economy, the report says.
Like gasoline, hydrogen is flammable, so safe systems for transporting, storing,
and handling it are needed. DOE should broaden its team of safety experts to
identify overall safety issues, help develop codes and standards, and increase
public awareness of hydrogen safety issues to facilitate the introduction of
hydrogen vehicles into the marketplace, the report says. Also, DOE and the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency should investigate the possible long-term environmental
effects of large-scale hydrogen production and its use in transportation vehicles.
The FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership's management should perform an overall program
evaluation and analysis to help the program's partners establish priorities and
make informed decisions about possible trade-offs, the report adds.
Currently, short-term activities, such as research on advanced combustion engines
and electric batteries, receive 30 percent of the program's funding; long-term
research on hydrogen energy technologies receives 70 percent. This funding split
is suitable, the committee said, although for the past two years Congress has
appropriated significant portions of the overall funding for specific recipients
and activities not focused on program goals. If this practice continues without
an overall funding increase to compensate for it, timing milestones for the program
will certainly slip, the committee said.
The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The National Research
Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and
the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that
provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee
Copies of Review
of the Research Program of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership - First Report will
be available this fall from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or
1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu . Reporters
may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information
(contacts listed above).
[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]