Hydrogen’s Empty Environmental Promise

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Politicians on both the Left and the Right haveincreasingly embraced subsidies for hydrogenpoweredfuel cells as a promising way to moveAmerica away from reliance on petroleum.Although advocates concede that such technologiesare at least several decades away from penetratingthe market in any significant mannerbecause of cost considerations, less attention hasbeen paid to the environmental implications ofsuch a transition.

Given current technology, switching from gasolineto hydrogen‐​powered fuel cells would greatlyincrease energy consumption even if the hydrogenwere extracted from water rather than from fossilfuels. That’s because it takes a tremendous amountof electricity to harvest hydrogen and to deliver it toconsumers. Moreover, a transition from gasoline tohydrogen would nearly double net greenhouse gasemissions attributable to passenger vehicles, giventhe current fuel mix in the electricity sector.

Donald Anthrop

Donald Anthrop is professor emeritus of environmental studies at San Jose State University and the author of more than 60 papers and articles on energy and water resources.