Hydrogen fuel cars: The expensive truth

April 1, 2008 7:28:47 PM PDT
It costs $50 to $100 dollars to fill up your car and it's showing no sign of subsiding. It's a financial hardship on a growing number of people as Bay Area researchers look to hydrogen as a possible fix.

These days, it seems the roads to where we want to go are also roads to financial hardship -- roads that converge at the gas pump.

"Yeah, it's crazy."

Augustine Ramirez of Modesto payed $75 dollars for a partial fill-up, and is wishing for an alternative.

ABC7 News reporter Wayne Freedman : "So have you heard of the hydrogen car?"

Augustine: "Oh yeah."

If we're to believe auto makers, hydrogen salvation is just around the proverbial corner. Honda has its Clarity. In Los Angeles, GM continues testing a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell equinoxes.

"If you have the vehicles, the fueling capacity will be there, so we have to grow together as an industry," says GM's Alain Guiboux.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars sure sound like a good idea. After all, it's the most plentiful stuff in the universe. Theres just one problem: the cars will be extremely expensive.

"The real number we have to pay attention to is half a million to a million dollars a car," says Dr. Alex Farrell PhD of UC Berkeley.

Farrell is so much of an energy expert that on Tuesday, he addressed a room filled with them at Lawrence Livermore Lab.

"There is no one answer.There's a lot of things that are going to be the answer.Efficiency is part of the answer. Electric is part of the answer. Bio fuels is part of the answer. And maybe hydrogen, too," says Farrell.

The case against hydrogen begins questions of producing it, distributing it, storing it, and creating an inexpensive method of burning it. At best, critics call it, not the silver bullet, but a component of silver buckshot.

"I don't care what runs my car. I don't care if it's hydrogen, ethanol, or whatever. What I do care about is that it doesn't produce carbon dioxide, not produce a lot of smog" says says Dr. Granger Morgan from the Carnegie Mellon Institute.

"People changed from horses to gasoline cars because they got a huge improvement in their lives. Changing from gasoline to hydrogen doesn't get you that, necessarily," says says Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's Dr. Julio Friedmann, Ph.D.

It means no quick fixes for Augustine Ramirez and the rest of us. In reality, they will take time, and the first of them will probably not come from hydrogen.

"Wow. See, forget it! I'm stuck with this. I'll make payment on this, I guess," says Ramirez.


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