The study advocated a broader energy policy for automobiles, specifically one that allocated more money to the development of gas-electric hybrids. Hydrogen may be the fuel of the future, but it is a distant future, at least fifty years away (Stauffer par. 8-9). In the meantime, the development of proven technology will be of more benefit than hydrogen.
The Myriad Issues with Hydrogen: Availability, Extraction, and Storage Are Just the Beginnings
Another study -- this time by 18 scientists and engineers from universities, the government, and private laboratories -- concluded that no known alternative energy source, hydrogen included, is ready to take the place of fossil fuels ("Fossil Fuels" par. 1-2). Regarding hydrogen, the study had very specific points. One, hydrogen does not exist in a natural pure form. Two, hydrogen must be extracted from either natural gas or water. Three, more carbon dioxide and less energy is produced with hydrogen is extracted than if natural gas is just burned directly. Four, using solar or wind for extraction energy is simply not cost effective with current technology ("Fossil Fuels" par. 12). A study completed by the National Academies echoed this sentiment. That report concluded that the most cost effective means of extracting hydrogen for fuel is from natural gas, meaning using hydrogen does not reduce dependence on fossil fuels or the negative environmental impact. Additionally, the high cost of fuel cells, the lack of a distribution network, and the explosive nature of pure hydrogen were all points against its use ("Hydrogen Economy Offers" par. 4-7).
Because hydrogen is a gas, an explosive one at that, it requires specialized storage. Tanks either have to be exceptionally large to accommodate enough hydrogen for fuel or else have to be pressurized to dangerous levels ("Is Hydrogen" par. 1). That is only an issue after the hydrogen has been extracted from another source. The environmental and political benefits of hydrogen are only realized when it is extracted from water with renewable energy (Lynn par. 3). The Bush administration is quietly making moves to insure hydrogen will be extracted from fossil fuels using fossil fuels to extract upwards of 90% of all hydrogen produced (Lynn par. 2). This is part of a logic that ignores how hydrogen is produced in order to rapidly replace gasoline. Assessments of the value of hydrogen that do not take into account how the hydrogen was extracted are ultimately flawed (Stuaffer par. 6). If hydrogen is extracted from fossil fuels using fossil fuels as the primary extraction energy source, then no environmental benefits will be realized, energy independence will be nonexistent, and it will all happen at a net energy loss.
Conclusion: Hydrogen Simply Not a Feasible Fossil Fuel Replacement report from the National Academies indicates that the best-case scenario for the hydrogen economy would see development spread over many decades. Reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel use would not be significant for at least another 25 years ("Hydrogen Economy Offers" par. 1). In short, the technical obstacles associated with the proposed hydrogen economy are significant. Worse, current methods of extraction rely on fossil fuels in every aspect of the process. This means that no environmental or political benefit is achieved by developing hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen does have the potential to be an important fuel in the distant future; however, currently it is not a feasible replacement for fossil fuels.
Crabtree, George W., Mildred S. Dresselhaus, and Michelle V. Buchanan. "The Hydrogen Economy." Physics Today Online. Dec. 2004. 25 Oct. 2005 http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-57/iss-12/p39.html.
Fossil Fuels Still Don't Have a Feasible Replacement." The Times via Associated Press. 1 Nov. 2002. 25 Oct. 2005 http://www.rff.org/rff/News/Coverage/2002/November/Fossil-Fuels-Still-Dont-Have-Feasible-Replacement.cfm.
Hydrogen Economy Offers Major Opportunities but Faces Considerable Hurdles." The National Academies: Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine. 4 Feb. 2004. 25 Oct. 2005 http://www4.nationalacademies.org/news.nsf/isbn/0309091632?OpenDocument.
Is Hydrogen a Viable Fuel Alternative?" Physorg.com. 12 Oct. 2005. 25 Oct. 2005 http://www.physorg.com/news7198.html.
Lynn, Barry C. "Hydrogen's Dirty Secret." Mother Jones. May/June 2003. 25 Oct. 2005 http://www.motherjones.com/news/outfront/2003/05/ma_375_01.html.
Stauffer, Nancy. "Hydrogen Vehicle Won't Be Viable Soon, Study Says." MIT News Office. 2 Mar. 2003. 25 Oct. 2005 http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2003/hydrogen-0305.html.