The future large-scale use of hydrogen as an energy carrier has been
given considerable attention in congressional hearings, secretarial
speeches, and by President Bush in his State of the Union address this
year. A just-released report outlines the basic research required to
turn the promise of a hydrogen economy into a reality.
The report summarizes the findings of DOE's "Basic Energy Sciences
Workshop on Hydrogen Production, Storage, and Use" that was convened
in May. This workshop was chaired by Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus of M.I.T.,
who has previously served as the director of the Department of Energy's
Office of Science and who is now the chair of the Governing Board of
the American Institute of Physics. The 175-page report was prepared
by Argonne National Laboratory, and can be found at http://www.sc.doe.gov/bes/hydrogen.pdf
The workshop was charged by DOE Office of Science Associate Director
Patricia Dehmer with identifying "fundamental research needs and
opportunities in hydrogen production, storage, and use, with a focus
on new, emerging and scientifically challenging areas that have the
potential to have significant impact in science and technologies."
Three panels reviewed basic research challenges involving hydrogen
production, storage, and fuels cells and novel fuel cell materials.
The workshop's findings are presented in this report that is both
readable by the general public and, particularly in a 65-page section
on research directions, sufficiently detailed to outline basic
research needs. These needs are considerable, and as the report
states, "while the hydrogen economy represents a visionary strategy
for our future energy security, significant scientific and technical
challenges must be overcome to achieve its implementation."
Revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, advances will be required
for a hydrogen economy to be successful, the report explains.
The report's sections on the findings of the three panels describe
the challenges. For instance, providing sufficient and cost-
effective means to produce usable hydrogen will require an "intensive
effort in both basic research and engineering." If fossil fuels
such as coal are used, a carbon-neutral system would require the
development of an economic and safe method for CO2 sequestration.
Other production systems are described, including various forms of
solar hydrogen, biological and biomimetic systems, and thermal
energy. Efficient and effective hydrogen storage, particularly for
vehicles, is critical. The transportation sector is the "most
intensive driver for the hydrogen economy," the report states,
onboard storage for transportation uses is "one of the major
challenges in achieving the hydrogen economy." Potential gaseous,
liquid, and solid-state storage methods are described. Particular
attention is given to metal hydrides, which researchers believe "may
represent ideal storage systems." There are more than numerous
hydrides, none of which thus far have met all requirements. Solving
this problem will require a multidisciplinary approach involving,
among other fields, physics and materials science. Nanoscience
could, the panel found, "provide revolutionary new capabilities
will have a profound impact on hydrogen storage." The third panel
reported on challenges involving fuel cells and novel fuel cell
materials. The panel found that there will be a "long pathway"
the use of fuel cells in automotive applications, with a cost
reduction of almost two orders of magnitude needed from what is
expected to be the cost of mass-produced fuel cells using current
technologies. Durability is another important issue to be dealt
with. "The development of efficient and cost-effective fuel cell
technology solutions for automotive and stationary applications
presents a grand challenge that will take a substantial and sustained
effort in chemical and materials research," the panel concluded.
In reviewing basic research needs involving production, storage, and
use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, the workshop identified six
"cross-cutting issues" common to each in areas such as catalysis,
nanomaterials, and simulation. These issues are interdependent in
Two paragraphs in the opening pages of this report summarize the
workshop's perception of the research challenges confronting a
future hydrogen economy, and the best way to meet those challenges.
They are as follows:
"The panels assembled to carry out this study started
investigation by focusing on the large gap between present knowledge
and technology and that required by a hydrogen economy. However, as
the panels carried out their work, optimism increased, as
participants noted the many recent advances in chemistry, materials
research, and computation that are opening up exciting new research
opportunities. These opportunities have the potential to
significantly narrow the knowledge/technology gap."
"Implementing the hydrogen economy represents perhaps
one of the most
fundamental and wide ranging influences on the social fabric of our
times. It will lead to a reorganization of our energy culture that
compares to the deployment of the fossil fuel economy in the late
19th and early 20th centuries, and the development of the electric
power generation and distribution system in the mid and late 20th
century. The benefits of the hydrogen economy to society are many
compelling. To realize these benefits, a strong program of innovative
basic research aimed at making revolutionary advances in lowering
cost and raising the performance and reliability of the hydrogen
economy is essential."