Switching to vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells instead of fossil fuels will provide significant health and environment benefits, save life and money, according to a new study released on Thursday.
Mark Jacobson, an associate professor at Stanford University, said that converting all onroad vehicles in the United States to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (HFCVs) may improve air quality, health and climate significantly. Jacobson and colleagues' paper is published in the June 24 issue of journal Science.
Most benefits would result from eliminating current vehicle exhaust. Wind and natural gas HFCVs offer the greatest potential health benefits and could save 3,700 to 6,400 lives in the United States annually. And among all HFCV types, the wind HFCVs, which means the hydrogen is produced through wind electrolysis, should benefit climate most, the researchers found.
Earlier studies have modeled the effects of hydrogen leakage or reduced emission on global tropospheric and stratospheric chemistry, but no research has examined the effect on urban pollution or health of establishing a hydrogen economy. Furthermore, no study has examined the likely effects of this switch on aerosol particles, which have a large impact on climate and are the deadliest components of air pollution.
But in this new research, the Stanford group used a computing model to examine the possible effects on ambient gas, particle concentrations, and estimated health and climate costs if replacing all US fossil-fuel onroad vehicles with HFCVs.
They compared the benefits of producing hydrogen by steam reforming of natural gas, wind-electrolysis and coal gasification, and found most of HFCVs' benefits arose from eliminating current vehicle exhaust.
An all-HFCV fleet would hardly affect tropospheric water vapor concentrations, the researchers said. Conversion to coal HFCVs may improve health but would damage climate more than fossil/electric hybrids.
Fuel cell vehicles using hydrogen produced by wind and natural gas offer the greatest potential health benefits, and could save 3, 700 to 6,400 lives annually in the United States by reducing air pollution.
And ultimately, hydrogen produced from wind would cost between 1.12 and 3.20 dollars per gallon in the United States. This sum is lower than gasoline price, although the estimates do not include the infrastructure costs of converting to hydrogen, according to the study.
"Although the three HFCV cases all reduced health costs, wind and natural gas HFCVs reduced such costs the most and reduced ozone by up to 20 ppbv. Wind HFCVs reduced climate costs the most, making it the most beneficial environmental technology," the researchers concluded.