A 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, explored how successful electric vehicle options developed in mid 1990’s were held back by the powers at be. Ironically the answer to who killed the hydrogen car, has been the electric car.
In 2004 Governor Arnold Swarzenegger had made plans to invest in the first hydrogen highway. The plan was to have hydrogen-fueling stations every 20 miles and around 200 stations total by 2010, with Sacramento being one of the major hubs. Today there are only 9 stations open to the public. This is in large part because of the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles to meeting the needs of the clean air vehicle market.
Recent legislation could give new life to the hydrogen highway. AB 8 reestablishes the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. It would require the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission to allot $20 million annually until at least 100 hydrogen-fueling stations are publicly available.
The controversy now lies in how the bill is now being funded. Before the hydrogen highway was funded mostly through public-private partnership with most of the money coming from oil companies. The money will now come from motorists through the form of vehicle registration and similar fees. Now the public also may want to kill the hydrogen car.
So is a hydrogen highway still a viable environmental option? The benefit to hydrogen burning cars, is that the only byproducts are water vapor and heat. However, what also needs to be considered is where all the hydrogen is coming from which is typically natural gas. Natural gas and its main extraction method fracking, is coming under high scrutiny from environmentalist everywhere especially in California.
It would be a better environmental option if electrolysis, or the splitting of water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms were utilized. The hydrogen highway could still be a viable option for the future with proper investment, but the public shouldn’t be footing the entire bill.