Hydrogen Benefits and Considerations
Hydrogen can be produced from diverse domestic resources with the potential for near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Once produced, hydrogen generates electrical power in a fuel cell, emitting only water vapor and warm air. It holds promise for growth in both the stationary and transportation energy sectors.
The United States became a net exporter of petroleum in 2020 with exports surpassing imports, although imports of 7.86 million barrels per day remained an important part of balancing supply and demand for domestic and international markets. Overall, the transportation sector accounts for approximately 30% of total U.S. energy needs and 70% of U.S. petroleum consumption. Hydrogen can be produced domestically from resources like natural gas, coal, solar energy, wind, and biomass. When used to power highly efficient fuel cell electric vehicles, hydrogen holds the promise of helping strengthen national energy security, conserve fuel, and diversify our transportation energy options for a more resilient system.
Public Health and Environment
About half of the U.S. population lives in areas where air pollution levels are high enough to negatively impact public health and the environment. Emissions from gasoline and diesel vehicles—such as nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter—are a major source of this pollution. Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles emit none of these harmful substances—only water (H2O) and warm air.
The environmental and health benefits are also seen at the source of hydrogen production if derived from low- or zero-emission sources, such as solar, wind, and nuclear energy and fossil fuels with advanced emission controls and carbon sequestration. Because the transportation sector accounts for about one-third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, using these sources to produce hydrogen for transportation can cut greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more about hydrogen emissions.
Hydrogen's energy content by volume is low. This makes storing hydrogen a challenge because it requires high pressures, low temperatures, or chemical processes to be stored compactly. Overcoming this challenge is important for light-duty vehicles because they often have limited size and weight capacity for fuel storage.
Typically, the storage capacity for hydrogen in light-duty vehicles should enable a driving range of more than 300 miles to meet consumer needs. Because hydrogen has a lower volumetric energy density than that of gasoline, storing this much hydrogen on a vehicle currently requires a larger tank at higher pressure than other gaseous fuels. Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles have more space for larger tanks but could face weight limitations that reduce the total load potential to stay within U.S. Department of Transportation restrictions. Learn more about hydrogen storage challenges from the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.
To be competitive in the marketplace, the cost of fuel cells will have to decrease substantially without compromising performance. From at least one original equipment manufacturer, the predicted cost of mass-produced fuel cell electric vehicles could be similar to the cost of their hybrid counterparts by 2025. Unlike a battery, where most of the cost comes from the raw materials used to make it, the most expensive part of a fuel cell is manufacturing the fuel cell stack itself—not the materials to produce it. The cost to build and maintain hydrogen stations also needs to decrease for the market to support a hydrogen economy. See the Department of Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office Plan for plans and projections for the future of hydrogen and fuel cells.