Hydrogen Highway or Bridge to Nowhere

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that the American public was promised a future on the hydrogen highway. America would eliminate their dependency on foreign oil and move into the future with clean technology that would eliminate air pollution. So what happened? Are these futuristic vehicles on the way? It turns out that there is still a hydrogen movement. Hydrogen has run into several problems over the years and is still a long way from being a reality, but it seems like some of the problems are being solved.

One of the first problems was how to get enough hydrogen fuel storage on a vehicle to allow it to travel a reasonable distance. Hydrogen is not as efficient as gasoline because it is less dense. To accommodate the differences in energy storage manufacturers have been tasked to find a storage solution to allow extended travel. This problem seems to have been solved with a carbon fiber tank that allows hydrogen to be stored as a compressed gas.

The biggest problem is the lack of infrastructure to support hydrogen vehicles and the cost of constructing this infrastructure. Much like the problems with CNG vehicles, consumers aren’t going to purchase vehicles that they can’t fill up at regular intervals. There is very little infrastructure for fueling hydrogen vehicles and installing this infrastructure is expensive; a business would be unlikely to make this investment without a demand for the product, and without vehicles lined up outside I don’t expect we will see too many stations. There are several states investing in a hydrogen infrastructure, but progress is slow.

Even without this infrastructure manufacturers are moving forward with the development of hydrogen vehicles. Though fuel cell vehicles are becoming more efficient and cost effective, the cost of a hydrogen vehicle is still prohibitive. Toyota has estimated that its hydrogen vehicle scheduled to be released in 2015 will cost $130,000; a bit too much for the average American.

There are still a lot of hurdles to be conquered on the way to a hydrogen highway, but it doesn’t seem to be a bridge to nowhere at this point. Fuel cell vehicles have become more efficient, and the fuel storage problems have been overcome for the most part. And though vehicles are too expensive to be a realistic part of the mix for the average consumer, manufacturers are moving forward with vehicles. But without sufficient demand for the fuel infrastructure it seems unlikely that businesses will make the investment needed to meet the demands of a hydrogen highway; but maybe someday.