Dr. H.M. Hubbard
President and CEO (retired)
Pacific International Center for High Technology Research
Solar Energy Research Institute
Committee on Programmatic Review of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Power Technologies
Board on Energy and Environmental Systems
National Research Council
Committee on Science
U.S. House of Representatives
June 14, 2001
Thank you for inviting me to testify at this important hearing on Hydrogen and Nuclear Energy R&D legislation.
As requested in your letter of invitation, my testimony will report on the conclusions and recommendations pertinent to hydrogen research resulting from "Renewable Power Pathways: A Review of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Programs" carried out under the auspices of the National Research Council by the Study Committee on Programmatic Review of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Power Technologies on which I served as Chairperson.
I will also include a few general comments designed to set that review in context.
The Nature and Process of the Study
The National Research Council (NRC) issued the result of a study by the NRC's Committee for Programmatic Review of the Office of Power Technologies (OPT) and of OPT's research and development (R&D) programs in May, 2000. The study was carried out by a group of energy experts coming from different sectors of the energy research community designed to give the Committee a balanced perspective, and the final report of the Committee was reviewed by a variety of reviewers according to the NRC's usual procedures. A list of committee members and the reviewers is appended to this testimony.
The study included a review of OPT's hydrogen R&D program and that is the focus of this testimony. It should be pointed out that the study, conducted over about a year starting in early 1999, was requested by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and therefore approached the subject from a renewable energy program perspective, although the Committee recognized from the start that the hydrogen program has broader implications for energy systems generally.
The potential role of hydrogen in 21st century systems came up in many of the presentations made to the Committee and in Committee discussions over the course of the year. The OPT hydrogen program was the featured topic at the Committee's meeting in Washington on May 10 & 11, 1999. A list of the program including topics presented to the Committee and the presenters is appended to this testimony.
NRC Report Executive Summary Conclusions and Recommendations
In the report's executive summary there are several overall program recommendations of particular relevance to hydrogen. It recommends that OPT carry out renewable energy technology projects that will lead to a sustainable, cost-effective energy supply system and that OPT programs should de-emphasize optimistic, short-term deployment goals as the metrics for defining success. The objectives should be "the development of a sound science and engineering base, decreases in cost, improvements in technical performance, and the development of technologies that will meet the needs of the marketplace" in the longer run.
Programs such as hydrogen and superconductivity are different than those of the emerging energy conversion technologies such as wind and photovoltaics. Hydrogen is an energy and storage media for our energy future. OPT should develop a clear strategy for supporting long-term research in hydrogen and the related subject of storage.
The report's executive summary includes a single key recommendation for each of OPT's program areas and the recommendation for the Hydrogen Research Program in as follows:
"The Hydrogen Research Program should be reoriented with a longer-term perspective and a stronger emphasis on the production of hydrogen from renewable resources, the coupling of electrolysis with renewable energy generation, and distributed storage. OPT's Program should be coordinated with other elements in DOE such as the Office of Transportation Technology, the Office of Fossil Energy, and the Office of Science all of whom are involved in hydrogen and hydrogen-related research."
Hydrogen Research Program Assessment*
There are a lot of good things that can be said about the current hydrogen research program. There is a well-defined research plan. The research appears to be well done and well managed. HTAP works closely with the program managers and there is an organized peer review system in place.
Perhaps because DOE recognizes that the technologies and infrastructure for producing and using hydrogen on a scale large enough to make it a major factor in our energy systems are years away, the program appears to have focused on transitional strategies for producing hydrogen from natural gas as a transportation fuel. As a result, the tension between short-term and long-term objectives and the attendant competition for limited resources is even greater for the hydrogen research program than it is in other programs.
Several of our presenters, in their discussions with our Committee, expressed concern that too much emphasis is being placed on relatively near-term "technical validation" and the establishment of a distribution infrastructure and not enough on badly needed long-term exploratory and innovative R&D. A conclusion that the Committee agreed with by the time our discussions were finished.
In the Committee's view, the first challenge facing the OPT hydrogen research program is to develop better methods of producing hydrogen directly from sustainable energy sources (e.g., biomass, sunlight, etc.) without using electricity as an intermediate step. The second challenge is to develop better storage methods. Hydrogen has the advantage of being a stable storage media but the disadvantage of very low energy density. A major breakthrough in hydrogen storage technology would give a major impetus to hydrogen's utility as an energy carrier.
The ultimate goal is for hydrogen as an energy carrier to reduce the need to rely on fossil fuels in the energy systems powering our economy in the twenty first century. However, for the next quarter century (and probably longer, the recent experience in California not withstanding) natural gas will be available as the fuel of choice for most applications. Unless and until environmental concerns become a high priority, i.e., critical for the public and policy makers, there will be no need for hydrogen as a bulk priority.
However, in the longer run, it is essential that hydrogen be available to take its place as the clean, safe, transportable, domestically produced energy carrier of choice.
The Committee's findings and recommendations for the OPT Hydrogen Program are listed below:
Finding: The DOE has a number of programs involving the use of hydrogen, which has created a confusion of effort and responsibility.
Recommendation: The Hydrogen Research Program should be reoriented with a longer term perspective and broader participation by other elements of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) energy research establishment. The Office of Power Technologies (OPT) should concentrate on research aimed at the production of hydrogen from renewable resources and secondarily on hydrogen storage for distributed power generation. DOE should consider establishing a central point for the coordination of all research on "hydrogen systems," including OPT's hydrogen research and related activities in the DOE's Offices of Transportation Technologies, Fossil Energy, and Science.
Finding: The Hydrogen Research Program does not seem to have a clear methodology for selecting projects.
Recommendation: The Office of Power Technologies should establish a systematic method of setting priorities focused on how resources can best be used. Regular performance-based review of projects would improve the efficiency of the program substantially.
Finding: The Committee agrees with HTAP's concern that "too much emphasis is placed on relatively near-term 'technical validation' and the establishment of a distribution infrastructure at the expense of badly needed long-term exploratory and innovative R&D."
Recommendation: The Office of Power Technologies should defer its plans for infrastructure development involving hydrogen fueling stations and fuel cells until a practical process for producing hydrogen from renewable resources is in view and a demand for hydrogen begins to emerge.
Finding: Some of the sources and methods for the production of hydrogen that OPT is investigating (i.e., hydrogen for fuel cells or transportation uses) seem better suited to other DOE R&D programs.
Recommendations: The Hydrogen Research Program should focus on the production of hydrogen from all renewable energy resources, including biological methods of production. If the source of hydrogen is natural gas, the program must make a convincing case that the program can produce a superior product for the market. Alternative technologies (including fuel cells) that use natural gas directly should only be used as a reference for setting the goals of the program and should not be the major focus of the program.
*NRC Report Renewable Power Pathways: A Review of the U.S. Department of Energy's Renewable Energy Programs, pp. 43-44, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., May 2000.
Members of the Study Committee
H.M. HUBBARD (CHAIR), Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (retired), Lee's Summit, Missouri
R. BRENT ALDERFER, consultant, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
DAN E. ARVIZU, CH2M Hill, Greenwood Village, Colorado
EVERETT H. BECKNER, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Bethesda, Maryland (until December 2, 1999)
PETER BLAIR, Sigma Xi, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
CHARLES GOODMAN, Southern Company Generation, Birmingham, Alabama
NATHANAEL GREENE, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York, New York
JEFFREY M. PETERSON, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Albany, New York
RICHARD E. SCHULER, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
T.W. FRASER RUSSELL, NAE1, University of Delaware, Newark
JEFFERSON W. TESTER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
1 National Academy of Engineering
DAVID BODDE, University of Missouri, Kansas City
ELISABETH DRAKE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
SETH DUNN, Worldwatch Institute
JOHN KASLOW, EPRI Consultants, Inc.
KARL RABAGO, Rocky Mountain Institute
MAXINE SAVITZ, Allied Signal, Inc.
RAYMOND VISKANTA, Purdue University
CARL WEINBERG, Weinberg Associates
While these individuals provided constructive comments and suggestions, responsibility for the final content of this report rests solely with the authoring committee and the NRC.
Hydrogen Program Review Committee Meeting - May 11, 1999 - Washington, D.C.
Summary of Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel report
John O'Sullivan, Electric Power Research Institute
John O'Sullivan, Electric Power Research Institute
Richard Rocheleau, University of Hawaii
Hydrogen Program R&D
Catherine Gregoire-Padro, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
DOE Response to the Presentation and Discussions
Sig Gronich, Hydrogen Research Program