Plug-in / Hydrogen — Natural allies or competitors or …

Today, Wired‘s Autopia published Plug-In Hybrids Weaken the Case for Hydrogen Vehicles.  It opens

The U.S. DOE continues to fund hydrogen research, a long term proposition that could be mute if plug-in hybrids become commercially successful.

Is this right? Are plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEVs) likely to make hydrogen OBE (overtaken by events)?

This piece lays out the key issues facing hydrogen that are in question against PHEVs:

* The need for a new, highly expensive new infrastructure for the distribution and storage of hydrogen.

* The challenge of efficently producing hydrogen and the question as to what else might be done with the energy to produce the hydrogen.

They are, from my perspective, absolutely right. In the near — next 20-30 years, it is almost certainly a better option to pursue PHEVs aggressively, to shift as much of the transportation network as possible to an electricity based mode (this goes for all land transport — cars and rail) and away from fossil fuels.

And, well, I agree with this:

Fuel cell vehicles remain an option for the long term, but if the goal is to reduce fossil fuel use in the short term, plug-in hybrids seem to be a much better bet.

But, there are other meaningful options for hydrogen, from stationary provision of very clean energy (in the face of grid disruption), as a storage device for renewable power to cover intermittency while off grid, and as a fuel option for specific transportation situations — from space to local transport for someone operating off-grid (like the Hopewell Project).

And, as things progress, there might be a clean transition from PHEVs with gasoline, to flex-fuel PHEVs, to PHEVs with hydrogen as the store fuel.

PHEVs definitely should be receiving a major (MAJOR) US national priority at this time — they are a way to revive American industry and seize back much of the world auto market.  But, research in and development of hydrogen options is not something to forget … PHEVs are the best near-term future option for a much better energy future. Hydrogen might be a critical part of the longer term future.

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