University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers have developed a hydrogen supply chain model that can enable the adoption of zero-emission, hydrogen-powered cars – transforming them from a novelty into everyday transportation in just 30 years.

In a new study published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, the UBC researchers provide an analysis of the infrastructure needed to support hydrogen cars, SUVs and mini vans in British Columbia. They recommend a refueling infrastructure extending from Prince George in the north to Kamloops and Vancouver in the south and Victoria in the west. Production plants would capture by-product hydrogen from chemical plants or produce it from water electrolysis and steam methane reforming. A network of refueling stations would be established to serve consumers in major urban centers.

Lead author Hoda Talebian, a PhD candidate in the department of mechanical engineering at UBC said, “Hydrogen-powered vehicles are a strong alternative to battery electric vehicles, which don’t always comply with fast-refueling, long-distance travel or cold weather requirements. We believe we have created the most comprehensive model for hydrogen adoption in a region like B.C., where demand is still low for these types of vehicles.”

The researchers, all affiliated with UBC’s Clean Energy Research Center (CERC), analyzed future demand for light-duty hydrogen vehicles and included the potential effects of policy tools like B.C.’s carbon tax and the low carbon fuel standard.

Co-author and CERC program manager Omar Herrera said, “Provided B.C. maintains those policies, and assuming enough hydrogen vehicles are available, our model sees hydrogen demand growing significantly every year.”

The researchers note that hydrogen cars like the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai’s Nexo are already available in B.C., and a public retail hydrogen station opened in Vancouver last year – Canada’s first. By 2020, Greater Vancouver and Victoria are projected to have a network of six stations.

Senior study author Walter Mérida, an engineering professor at UBC who studies clean energy technologies and leads the transportation futures research group in the faculty of applied science gave the background, “The momentum for hydrogen vehicles is growing, and B.C. is leading developments in Canada by providing supports like car sales rebates and incentives for building fuelling stations.”

“However, we need a solid refueling network to truly promote mass adoption. We hope that our framework contributes to its development and to the CleanBC plan, which includes a zero-emission vehicle mandate by 2040. We do see a future where hydrogen can be economically competitive with gasoline, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” added Mérida. “This study is part of a broad, multidisciplinary effort on the future of transportation. As the energy system becomes smart and decarbonized, hydrogen will become a critical bridge between renewable energy and transportation.”

The press release makes this work sound so enticing. And it is worthy work. While the effort does overlook the storage issues hydrogen presents, it is honest in noting that for the sake of market success government incentives would be required, things like carbon taxes and new regulatory standards. Plus its noted that steam methane reforming (SMR) is the least costly hydrogen production technology even with carbon policies in place as steam reforming needs higher emissions.

The “but” in all this is that it seems that government will have to force hydrogen to market. They report that government forcing efforts can be explained away when hydrogen pricing and green house gas emissions are calculated “evenly”.

Someday the economy of consumers is going to have to wake up and realize carbon is essential for life as well as a high standard of living. Perhaps a politician or intelligent press will figure out a way to explain to the average person that life on earth is based on carbon.


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