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Are Hydrogen Cars Good for America?

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Publication Date: November 2007

Publisher(s): Reason Foundation

Author(s): William J. Korchinski

Topic: Energy (Fuels)

Type: Report


Hydrogen cars have been the most obvious symbol of efforts to move the country into a hydrogen-powered
future. Policymakers envision a world in which the only emission from a car's tailpipe is water, the byproduct of hydrogen fuel cells.

As this policy report explains, however, hydrogen's promise as a truly clean and efficient alternative to oil is still only a promise. At present, hydrogen is not an efficient or environmentally friendly alternative to the gasoline that powers nearly all automobiles. Hydrogen fuel cells in the cars themselves produce virtually no pollution, aside from water. However, depending on the technology used, the manufacture of hydrogen fuel cells produces as much or more net pollution than the manufacture and use of gasoline.

Moreover, hydrogen would not significantly reduce the country's dependence on foreign sources of energy. The hydrogen manufacturing process requires substantial quantities of natural gas. Since production at known natural gas reserves in the United States and Canada has leveled off, the United States would need to look elsewhere for sources of natural gas to create the hydrogen for its hydrogen-powered future. Russia and countries in the Middle East are, as with oil, the largest producers of natural gas.

Policymakers' desire to reduce pollution is admirable, but hydrogen may not yet be the answer. Instead, other technologies--including clean coal processes and nuclear power--show promise.