Report on Hydrogen-Fuel Pollution Takes Aim at California Governor's Plans
Nov. 19A report issued Thursday by a Libertarian think tank seeks to debunk Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plans for a "hydrogen highway," by claiming hydrogen-fueled vehicles will make little difference in reducing harmful emissions.
The Reason Foundation report argues that, even while hydrogen cells may be clean-burning, the processes used to manufacture and distribute hydrogen are dirty enough to nearly negate the benefits and the cost of conversion isn't worth the difference.
The study instead advocates increasing conservation, lowering freeway speed limits and making gasoline-powered cars smaller.
"Until we figure out ways to create hydrogen that are less energy-intensive or the performance of hydrogen improves, it's not a good air-quality measure," said Adrian Moore, the study's project director.
State environmental officials concede the study's argument has some merit, given the current state of technology. But they note that hydrogen is still an emerging science, and that the ultimate goal is to produce hydrogen cells through clean, renewable sources such as solar, wind and biomass, rather than natural gas.
"Every day, these vehicles coming out are lighter and more fuel-efficient," said Michele St. Martin, spokeswoman for the California Department of Environmental Protection. "At the end of the day, experts are saying hydrogen-powered vehicles will be at least twice as fuel-efficient as gasoline vehicles."
Earlier this year, Schwarzenegger proposed creating a "California Hydrogen Highway Network," with up to to 200 hydrogen fueling stations located along the state's freeways by 2010. The project is expected to cost $75 million to $200 million, with much of the cost picked up by the private sector.
The state has already opened hydrogen fueling stations in Los Angeles, Davis and San Francisco, and expects to have 18 more open soon, she said. City governments in those regions are using hydrogen cars in pilot programs.
Hydrogen-car supporters say they are the clean-burning wave of the future, producing only water, not dirty carbon dioxide, in their exhaust.
The Reason study said it is not the emissions of hydrogen-fueled vehicles that are troubling, but the way that hydrogen is produced and distributed. Hydrogen plants would most likely run on natural gas, resulting in high emissions of carbon dioxide, the study argues.
The study also notes that converting some vehicles to hydrogen may actually make them greater polluters, because hydrogen vehicles are heavier and take more energy to generate the same horsepower.
V. John White, an adviser to the Sierra Club on clean-air issues, said he is skeptical of findings by the Reason Foundation because of the group's ideological bias. Hydrogen, he said, is only one part of a multipronged strategy to reduce emissions in California, and the hydrogen field continues to improve.
"The Reason Foundation doesn't accept we're living in a carbon-constrained world and petroleum is rapidly reaching its peak and will soon begin a long decline," White said. "The alternatives to our addiction to petroleum are important to develop."
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