Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


Hydrogen fueling station's time has come, researchers conclude

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Feb. 12, 1996 — Fuel costs of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells can be competitive with their gasoline counterparts, and it's time to build a hydrogen fueling station to prove it, say two researchers at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

"Rather than dismissing hydrogen as a distant future fuel, industry and government should recognize the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles and help hasten their introduction into the nation's transportation sector," said Suman Singh of ORNL's Chemical Technology Division. Singh, who worked with colleague Andrea Richmond on a report for DOE, is convinced that hydrogen is a fuel whose time has come.

"The government can assist in this endeavor by educating the public regarding the benefits of hydrogen as a transportation fuel and providing incentives to speed up the development of the hydrogen fuel infrastructure," Singh said.

Singh recommends that ORNL work with industry to build and demonstrate hydrogen-fueled vehicles and a fueling station. The cost of such a station would be about $4.5 million; however, the station would produce as well as dispense the hydrogen, so it's not analogous to today's gas station, which does not produce the gasoline.

The projected fuel cost for a hydrogen-fueled automobile is estimated at 3.8 cents per mile vs. 4.5 cents per mile for one powered by gasoline, according to Singh and Richmond. This cost assumes an average gasoline price of $1.20 per gallon and a price of $1.37 per pound of hydrogen. The comparison, which excludes federal or state taxes on hydrogen, takes into account the average propulsion efficiency of internal combustion engine-powered vehicles, which is about 15 percent, vs. a 50 percent efficiency for a vehicle powered by a fuel cell.

Although this comparison indicates approximately equal fuel costs per mile, Singh emphasizes that the cost of gasoline to the consumer does not take into account other factors, such as the health and environmental costs associated with burning gasoline. These costs result from the emission of billions of pounds of carbon dioxide (the major greenhouse gas), carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulfur oxide, hydrocarbons and particulates. All of these emissions have health and environmental effects and add to the socioeconomic costs of using gasoline to power vehicles.

Hydrogen produces none of these emissions when used in a fuel cell-powered vehicle. In fact, the only emission from such a vehicle is water, making it a true zero emission vehicle. Other factors to take into account, Singh said, are the nation's growing dependence on foreign oil, the worsening trade deficit and fuel supply security issues. For these reasons, it makes sense to start moving toward hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles now, Singh said.

Hydrogen can be produced by numerous methods from a wide range of resources, including fossil fuels, water, biomass and other organic raw materials. Singh's study was based on steam-methane reforming of natural gas, the most widely used process because it is the most cost effective. Other processes could become competitive with emerging technologies.

For the study, ORNL researchers calculated that 11 pounds of hydrogen would provide a 400-mile driving range for the conceptual fuel cell powered vehicle similar to the present-day mid-sized car. The tank required to hold the fuel would be about three times the size of the gas tank in a mid-sized car. The station would meet fueling requirements of 300 fuel cell-powered vehicles per day. Refueling would take about 10 minutes.

The research was funded by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.