Technology Update: Fill 'er Up...But Whatever With? And Wherever From?
Alas, neither will hydrogen be inexpensive. U.S. government policy is said to be formulated on a pretax price of $1.50/kg, 1 kg of hydrogen being equivalent to 1 gal. of gasoline. Our gasoline taxes add another 20-25 percent, though hydrogen will profit from introductory incentives. On the other hand, such tax breaks cannot go on forever. (One assumes, of course, that fuel taxes somehow support our transportation infrastructure.)
Most of these cars will store the hydrogen onboard in pressurized form at 10,000 psi. For some, innovative nickel/hydrogen "batteries" will enhance energy density. Range won't be diesel-like, but neither will it be a concern for most drivers. In really cold weather, sub-zero Fahrenheit, a 25-second start-up routine will be considered normal; otherwise, it'll be essentially punch-the-start-up-and-go.
The first buyers will be fuel-cell pioneers, just as their hybrid counterparts made the transition a few years ago. By 2019, though, fuel-cell cars will be chosen because they offer features setting them apart from other cars on the road: innovative layout and packaging, styling-and abundant power for electrical gizmos.
In 2019, internal-combustion/electric hybrids will make up significant segments of automaker offerings. Hybrid versions of conventional models as well as hybrids-from-birth will coexist. Many will be engineered to travel as far as possible on each gallon of their fossil fuel. Others, though, will use their electric motors' considerable and instantaneous torque to achieve stunning acceleration. The more sophisticated of the breed will use interactive power in their vehicle-stability strategies.
Some of the earliest hybrids will have already worn out their original battery packs. A secondary market will offer reconditioned units at less-than-new-battery prices. Generally, battery packs will exhibit the durability expected of traditional powertrains, on the order of 150,000 miles. Equally important, hybrids will have introduced everyone to the nuances of electric-motor-based mobility. Not only automakers and their customers, but the service industry and highway-safety infrastructure all profit from these cars as transitional to a hydrogen-based long term.
The middle of the barrel yields diesel fuel, kerosene, jet fuel and a lot of other petrochemicals. In 2006, the sulfur in diesel fuel will be phased down to 15 parts per million (compared with as much as 500 ppm today). One aim of this is to encourage a larger, cleaner diesel fleet here in the U.S.
Not without tradeoffs, however. First and foremost, a diesel's compression ignition is still a combustion process, with inevitable emissions. Catalytic filters with complex control strategies are necessary to cut its NOX and particulates. Second, traditional diesel fuel is a petroleum product, subject to the same economic and political issues as gasoline. On the other hand, biomass diesel can be produced from wood chips, for example.
We'll never see our diesel fleet grow to European norms (now more than 50 percent in some of the European Union). For one thing, we offer no tax break for diesel. What's more, and also unlike the EU, our emissions standards require diesels to meet the same limits as gasoline engines. As if this weren't enough, much of our available diesel fuel is lacking in lubricity-the latter, crucial with high-pressure direct-injection designs. And average cetane numbers around the country (analogous to gasoline octane ratings) are considerably inferior to corresponding EU values.