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NextSTEPS White Paper: The Hydrogen Transition


Research Report

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Suggested Citation:
Ogden, Joan M., Christopher Yang, Michael A. Nicholas, Lewis Fulton (2014) NextSTEPS White Paper: The Hydrogen Transition. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-14-11

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) experienced a surge of interest in the early 2000s due to their potential to provide significant reductions in greenhouse gas and criteria air pollution, quick acceleration, fast refill, long range and ability to use a fuel (hydrogen) derived from domestic energy resources. However, public interest waned by the late 2000s as FCVs did not materialize in the showrooms and plug-in battery vehicles began entering the commercial market. The perception was that hydrogen was too difficult, and would not appear for several decades, if at all. However, in the past few years, important factors have emerged that are re-accelerating the commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. These include sustained automaker development of FCVs resulting in lower component and vehicle costs and better performance and durability, sophisticated new infrastructure strategies, the rise of public private partnerships for FCV rollout, increase in public support, low-cost natural gas, Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) and carbon policies and interest in hydrogen for storing renewable electricity.

The next two to three years will see concerted efforts to introduce hundreds of hydrogen stations capable of supporting tens of thousands of FCVs in selected regions worldwide, backed by several hundred million dollars in public investment and billions of dollars in private investment. If these regional rollouts succeed, hydrogen FCVs might be just a few years behind plug-in vehicles in the commercialization process, and might ultimately capture a larger share of the light duty vehicle market.

This paper presents an analysis of the issues surrounding a transition to large-scale use of hydrogen. We examine the current status of hydrogen vehicle and infrastructure technologies, and ongoing early commercialization efforts. Drawing on developments in California, the US, Europe and Asia, both near term and long term transition issues are discussed. These include managing the early introduction of hydrogen vehicles and associated infrastructure, and accomplishing a longer term transition to low carbon sources for hydrogen such as renewables and hydrocarbons with carbon capture and sequestration. We discuss what kinds of policies are now in place, the roles of different stakeholders in various regions, and what future policies might be needed to catalyze introduction of hydrogen and FCVs.