DOE Embraces Hydrogen Future

by Laura Waltemath, Education Task Leader, DOE Hydrogen Outreach Team
In the late 1800s, science fiction writer Jules Verne envisioned a world powered by hydrogen. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has embraced a similar vision that “hydrogen will join electricity in the 21st Century as a primary energy carrier in the nation’s energy future.” DOE has supported a hydrogen research and development program for nearly 20 years. As the use of fossil-based energy becomes limited by scarcity or environmental concerns, hydrogen will be introduced as the sustainable, clean energy carrier of the future.

Hydrogen used as an energy source presents substantial environmental and efficiency benefits when compared to conventional fossil-based energy sources. It is these advantages, in addition to the production of hydrogen from sustainable, renewable, domestic resources, that are the driving forces behind the hydrogen movement. Despite the environmental and efficiency benefits, the introduction of hydrogen to current energy markets is cost-prohibitive when compared to conventional energy.

The goal of DOE’s hydrogen R&D program is to develop practical, cost-effective hydrogen technologies and systems that will reduce the environmental impacts of energy use and promote renewable energy resource penetration into the national energy mix. The program funds core research on long-term, high-payoff technologies, such as photoelectrochemical production, to meet large-scale future hydrogen demands. And to complement the long-term research, the program supports nearer-term, lower-risk, industry-led technology development efforts to introduce cost-competitive hydrogen in niche markets.

The introduction of hydrogen technologies in near-term markets will be critical to the long-term transition to hydrogen energy. The California market for zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) is a prime market for introducing hydrogen technologies. Recognizing this, the program has entered into a collaborative project with California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District, the City of Palm Desert (California, U.S.A.), industry, universities, and national laboratories for the design and testing of a transportation infrastructure to support a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Many of the technologies developed by DOE’s hydrogen program will be scaled-up and validated in Palm Desert. This three-year project will produce data on the storage system and refueling infrastructure, and efficiency, emissions, and operating costs of the vehicles.

Demonstrating the environmental and efficiency benefits of hydrogen in niche markets may begin breaking the cost barriers to the use of hydrogen energy.

As the Hydrogen Program ushers in the hydrogen age, as Jules Verne had foreseen, should we now begin preparing for the discovery of dinosaurs at the center of the Earth? ©1996. All Rights Reserved. A Publication of the National Hydrogen Association.
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