Are We Implementing the Right Automotive Strategy? Part IV

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) reforming gasoline on the vehicle is also an alternative.

The cost of an FCEV would be about the same as the cost of purchasing a PHEV since equipment for reforming gasoline to produce hydrogen would replace the cost of high-pressure fuel tanks for storing hydrogen.

The McKinsey & Company report mentioned earlier, forecast that the cost of automotive fuel-cells would drop 90% by 2020, and that the cost differential between FCEVs and PHEVs would be negligible by 2030. Both would still have a higher first cost than ICE or CNG vehicles.

There are some advantages to FCEVs if gasoline is reformed on the vehicle.

  • Gasoline stations are already in place.
  • The cost of installing battery chargers would be avoided, saving more than $100 billion – or the cost of installing compressed natural gas fueling stations would be avoided, saving $100 billion.
  • The need to import Lithium and to then dispose of Lithium-ion batteries would be greatly reduced.
  • The need to build new power plants would largely be avoided.
  • The hidden cost of replacing overloaded distribution and sub-station transformers would largely be avoided, saving around $40 billion.
  • New inventions for storing hydrogen on FCEVs and for producing hydrogen could be adopted as they become available, which could, in the long term, completely cut oil usage.
  • A strategy that develops FCEVs could also result in the United States having technological leadership in the automotive market place, worldwide. It would leap-frog China and Japan who have leadership in battery technology.

FCEVs, using gasoline reforming, wouldn’t eliminate the use of foreign oil: They might be an interim step, waiting the development of better methods for storing hydrogen on the vehicle.  Eventually, we would have to make the costly investments in hydrogen production facilities and hydrogen fueling stations in order to eliminate the use of foreign oil. (At the same time, these investments would eliminate most of the benefits of FCEVs using gasoline.)


Each of the alternatives discussed in these four articles has drawbacks as well as advantages. Right now we are locked into PHEVs and EVs requiring huge government subsidies, and the purchase of expensive vehicles.

A market based approach to selecting the best of these automotive alternatives, (i.e., PHEV, EV, CNG, FCEV and ICE vehicles) would save money and allow for the greatest opportunity to adopt the best technology.

For now, let each alternative stand on its own without government subsidies.

Isn’t it time to stop spending money we don’t have on a PHEV and EV strategy that could preclude arriving at the best solution?

It will take decades before PHEVs or EVs can substantially reduce the use of oil, so we remain vulnerable over the next several decades to an interruption in the oil supply from the Middle East, no matter what alternative is adopted.

We have time before oil becomes overly expensive, and we can use that time to put the brakes on forcing the adoption of PHEVs and EVs while pursuing a more flexible, less costly strategy.

On balance, it would appear that CNG vehicles, with the potential to completely eliminate the use of foreign oil for gasoline, could emerge as the lowest cost, best approach.

What is needed is an in-depth study of all potential alternatives to determine the best automotive strategy for the United States.

It would be helpful if Congress would task several universities and the National Academy of Sciences to do this study.

Parts 1, 2 &3 published January 3rd , 6th and 10th .

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[To find earlier articles, click on the name of the preceding month below the calendar to display a list of articles published in that month. Continue clicking on the name of the preceding month to display articles published in prior months.]

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