The Hype About Hydrogen

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Dr. Romm is a frequently quoted expert on the role of hydrogen in the energy future of the United States.  Selected quotes and links to the original articles are below (some require registration and/or payment to access the full articles).

New!  Wired Magazine

California took a symbolic first step toward a statewide "hydrogen highway" with the dedication of a fueling station Tuesday, but the road ahead is far from smooth. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave an executive order creating a public and private partnership to build a hydrogen highway in California by 2010...

Building a hydrogen highway now is very premature, according to Joe Romm, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Energy and Climate Solutions. Romm, who worked for five years for the Department of Energy, said there would not be a viable market for hydrogen-powered cars for at least 20 to 30 years.

"It's discouraging for me as a clean-energy advocate that people are putting claims out that aren't based on reality," Romm said of assertions that a move from petroleum to hydrogen is on the horizon. The cost of producing hydrogen from renewable sources is between $10 to $20 per gallon of gasoline equivalent, said Romm, who wrote the book The Hype About Hydrogen, which was published earlier this year...

Romm is concerned that companies and government agencies that are touting hydrogen as an energy panacea may be pulling a bait and switch on the public -- priming consumers to support funding for "green" hydrogen while it will more likely be produced using fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.

Because fuel-cell technology is currently cost-prohibitive, Romm projects that hydrogen will first be used in internal-combustion engines, which will do little to improve air quality. "It's a big mistake to rush cars out with inadequate technology," said Romm, who would prefer that money be directed to research and development instead of building hydrogen fuel stations.

Romm said that if hydrogen stations are to be built, they should be located inside cities like 
Los Angeles that have poor air quality, not on highways far from urban centers.

The automotive industry will be reshaped during the next 20 years, Romm said -- but by hybrid gas/electric cars, not hydrogen vehicles. "The government does not have a good track record at picking winners" in the energy sector, Romm said.


"'For all the buzz about future highways filled with hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars, the technological—and environmental—high ground will belong to gasoline-electric hybrids for decades to come,' said Joseph J. Romm. 

"Hydrogen and fuel-cell cars are being mightily promoted. The U.S. Department of Energy has made them the central focus of its clean energy efforts. The state of California has said it will in the next few years build a 'hydrogen highway,' with hydrogen fueling stations every 20 miles along major highways. General Motors is spending more than a quarter of its research budget on fuel cell vehicles and Larry Burns, GM’s vice president for R&D and planning, said in February that the company will have a commercially viable fuel cell vehicle by 2010."


New York Times

“A second pessimistic assessment came from Joseph J. Romm, the chief Energy Department official in charge of conservation and alternative energy in the Clinton administration. His book The Hype About Hydrogen will be published this spring.

"’Fuel-cell cars will not be environmentally desirable for decades, because there are better uses for the fuels you can make the hydrogen out of,’" Mr. Romm said in a telephone interview.

”Most hydrogen produced today is made from natural gas, he said, and using that gas to make electricity, and thus replace coal-based electric plants, would do more for the environment than using the gas to make hydrogen to replace gasoline. He said society would get more energy from a cubic foot of natural gas burned in a modern gas-powered electric plant than if it was converted to hydrogen.

”Mr. Romm also said there is currently no way to deliver the hydrogen to vehicles. ‘People who want to build `hydrogen highways' and drive a hydrogen car in 10 or 15 years on a mass scale, are just kidding themselves,’ he said.”


San Francisco Chronicle

”During an interview last week in San Francisco, Joseph Romm, a former Energy Department official during the Clinton administration and author of an upcoming book called The Hype About Hydrogen, referred to hydrogen cars as ‘everybody's favorite techno-miracle.’ Romm drives a hybrid, which he said is the best practical alternative now. Hydrogen is ‘a post-2030 technology,’ he said. ‘If your concern is global warming, hydrogen cars are not what you'll be doing for the next 30 years.’” 


St. Petersburg Times

“But Joseph Romm, author of The Hype About Hydrogen, said it makes no sense for any state to risk millions on the fledgling hydrogen business now.

”’Any companies investing in this are going to want all these guarantees from the government,’ said Romm, who was in charge of hydrogen research for the U.S. Department of Energy under President Clinton. ‘My view is this is long-term technology being developed. I don't think states should be spending a lot of money building fueling stations right now.’”


LA Times

Joseph Romm, who oversaw energy efficiency programs in the U.S. Department of Energy during the Clinton administration, said he counts himself a proponent of new technologies.

“But Romm, who has written a book titled "The Hype About Hydrogen," which is to be published this spring, said the fuel will not be used to run passenger cars in significant numbers before 2030. He said the most viable step away from gasoline-powered cars — hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius — is already here.

“’The vehicles are going to be too expensive. The fuel is going to be too expensive. There are going to be safety issues. Who is going to buy these cars?’" Romm said.

“’People are not going to go through all the trouble of buying a hydrogen car, which is going to have all these limitations, when it won't even be as environmentally beneficial as a Toyota Prius when you consider the environmental cost of making that hydrogen fuel.’"