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Hydrogen Hopes
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Hydrogen Myths

By Jacqueline S. Mitchell
4 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Photo of oil refinery at night

Oil refineries are where most of our fuel comes from now.
Credit: David Parsons

Myth #2: Hydrogen fuel is too expensive to compete with gasoline.

"One of the biggest challenges of judging hydrogen's potential," writes Lovins in Twenty Hydrogen Myths "is how to compare it fairly and consistently with other energy carriers.... Different questions yield different answers."

Traditionally, the cost of fossil fuels is measured by volume. Gasoline costs about two dollars per gallon in the United States. Hydrogen gas compressed to 170 times atmospheric pressure contains just 6% of the energy in the same volume of gasoline. Comparing the two fuels' efficiency, however, paints a very different picture. A combustion engine car on the road today converts about 15% of the energy in its gas tank into forward motion. In hybrids like the Toyota Prius, this so-called "well-to-wheels" ratio rises to 26%. But a well-designed fuel cell engine converts 50-70% of its hydrogen energy into forward motion.

Lovins writes that the U.S. Department of Energy estimates hydrogen fuel and gasoline actually cost about the same for the same amount of energy — $0.71/kilogram of hydrogen compared to $0.72/gallon of gasoline. But since fuel cell engines are two to three times more efficient than combustion engines, the real price of hydrogen fuel drops to one-half to one-third that of gasoline. The bottom line is the fuel cell gets far better mileage, even if the cost per tank seems much higher

"Since you buy automotive fuel to get miles," writes Lovins, "ignoring . . . efficiency is a serious distortion, and accounts for much of the misinformation being published about hydrogen's high cost."

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4 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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