Comment on APS Hydrogen Report
Amory B. Lovins
Like several other well-publicized recent assessments, the March 2004 APS Panel on Public Affairs report "The Hydrogen Initiative" reaches erroneous conclusions about hydrogen economics and storage, due to three main fallacies:
1. By tacitly assuming today's heavy, inefficient vehicles, the panel concludes that "no material exists to construct a hydrogen fuel tank that meets the consumer benchmarks. A new material must be developed." In fact, those benchmarks (300-mile range, 3-5 minute fill, high safety, negligible leakage) are readily met by presently commercial filament-wound carbon-fiber tanks if used in very efficient and crashworthy fuel-cell vehicles made of ultralight advanced polymer composites. An illustrative 2000 virtual design for an uncompromised, cost-competitive midsize SUV  offers 330-mile range, 114-mpge EPA-adjusted efficiency, and excellent packaging using safe and cost-effective 350-bar hydrogen tanks now on the market. New manufacturing methods for carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic vehicle structures appear capable of ≥80% of the performance of hand-layup aerospace composites at ≤20% of their cost, beating aluminum in cost per part and steel in cost per car, while offering automakers major reductions in required capital, parts, and assembly.
Such light, efficient vehicles remove any need either for a new hydrogen storage material or for liquid or solid storage, both of which are far costlier than simple compressed-gas storage. Compressed-gas storage does require compression energy, but it's minor and largely recoverable; and as the 2000 design demonstrates, combining good platform physics with fuel-cell efficiency overcomes hydrogen's inherent bulk. The panel's qualitative objections based on these old issues don't withstand quantitative analysis.
2. The panel concludes that the cost of natural-gas-reformed hydrogen must fall by at least 4x to compete with $1.50/gallon gasoline. In fact, distributed miniature reformers now being commercialized, or hydrogen piped from near-urban refineries used as merchant hydrogen plants, can compete well at the wheels of the car, net of fuel cells' 2-3x tank-to-wheels efficiency advantage over gasoline Otto engines. (Comparing cost per MJ of fuel rather than per unit of delivered traction -- a mistake I made throughout the 1970s and 1980s -- is of course fallacious when the desired end-use is moving the car.)
The more interesting question is how well fuel-cell cars and reformed-methane hydrogen can compete with gasoline in a gasoline hybrid-electric car like the doubled-efficiency 2004 Toyota Prius. (A Prius powertrain in the ultralight, low-drag SUV design just mentioned, but with a 0-60 mph time reduced from 8.2 to 7.1 s, would get 66 mpg.) It turns out that 5x-efficiency cars create a robust business case for hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion, while today's inefficient platforms don't. Thus hydrogen needs superefficient cars far more than vice versa -- but once we have those cars, hydrogen clearly beats gasoline in cost per mile, using reformer technology now in service (centralized) or being commercialized (distributed). Cars with such good physics (low mass, drag, and rolling resistance) also make the fuel cell three times smaller, so it can be introduced many years earlier even at a threefold-higher price per kW.
The panel is correct that electrolytic hydrogen is too costly -- at least unless its electricity costs well below 2¢/kWh delivered to the filling station. But this means that electrolytic (or thermolytic) hydrogen can't justify further subsidies to or R&D investment in nuclear power, as the nuclear industry and Administration misrepresent, with the panel's apparent concurrence. Some renewables may ultimately be able to meet this stringent cost target, but nuclear technologies never can.
3. The panel omits the key strategy for an expeditious and profitable transition to hydrogen -- integrating fuel-cell deployment in mobile and stationary applications so that each helps the other happen faster .
How did these errors occur? The panel forthrightly states in its methodological appendix that "The authors did not carry out a new analysis of the scientific elements of the Hydrogen Initiative," but only "distilled" a rather narrow range of prior sources, nearly all governmental and many unquantitative and outdated. It's embarrassing to see APS issuing a me-too report pervaded by the same methodological flaws that undermined the similar reports lately issued by NAS/NRC, OTP, and others. POPA's distinguished panel and reviewers did not represent the range of knowledge needed to span the state of the art in key hydrogen-related technologies, and appear to have overlooked key evidence well-known to many active practitioners . I fear the result, echoing the conventional wisdom of five or ten years ago, does no credit to APS and will unduly retard sound R&D planning for the hydrogen transition , even though POPA correctly emphasizes integrating hydrogen R&D with efficiency and renewables. The Administration's hydrogen and automotive strategies have important flaws , but POPA hasn't correctly identified them. This lost opportunity is unfortunate.
Amory B. Lovins
Chief Executive Officer, Rocky Mountain Institute, Inc.
1739 Snowmass Creek Road, [Old] Snowmass, Colorado 81654-9115, USA
phone: + 1 970 927-3128 or -3129
fax: + 1 970 927-4178
Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org (read by assistants), email@example.com (private)
1. A.B. Lovins & D.R. Cramer, "Hypercars®,
Hydrogen, and the Automotive Transition," Intl.
J. Veh. Design 35(1/2):50-85 (2004),
2. A.B. Lovins & B.D. Williams, "A Strategy for
the Hydrogen Transition," Natl. Hydr. Assn. Ann.
3. A.B. Lovins, "Twenty Hydrogen Myths," June
2003 white paper (>50,000 downloads in first few
to be published in Intl. J. Hydr. En. (2004).
4. A.B. Lovins, J.G. Koomey, O.-E. Bustnes, &
E.K. Datta, Winning the Oil Endgame: American
Innovation for Profits, Jobs, and Security, in
production, Rocky Mountain Institute
(http://www.rmi.org), July 2004.
5. E.g., A.B. Lovins, "FreedomCAR, Hypercar®, and
Hydrogen," invited testimony to USHR Science
Committee (Energy Subcommittee), June 2002,
Radiation Detection at Borders for Homeland Security
A Summary for Forum on Physics and Society Session at the April 2004 APS Meeting
The philosophy for the defense of the United States changed after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. The methods for delivery of weapons of mass destruction (WMD: nuclear, biological, or chemical) or weapons of mass disruption, such as radiation dispersal devices, expanded from military systems, such as missiles and bombers, to include transportation modes used by commerce and passenger carriers. Sophisticated military systems allow weapon delivery to specific targets at specific times and may be useful for destroying or deterring the use of other weapons. However, terrorist attempts to create psychological and economic disruption do not require the precision or timing of such sophisticated delivery systems. As a result, defensive measures must include screening of cargo and passenger transportation modes for WMD or components thereof.
Countries around the world are deploying radiation detection instrumentation to interdict the illegal shipment of radioactive material crossing international borders at land, rail, air, and sea ports of entry. These efforts include deployments in the US and a number of European and Asian countries by governments and international agencies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Items of concern to be interdicted include radiation dispersal devices (RDDs), nuclear warheads, improvised nuclear devices (INDs), and special nuclear material (SNM). The materials of concern include: plutonium (239Pu), enriched uranium (235U and 233U), other SNM, and any radioactive source that could be used for a RDD. All of these targeted materials produce a gamma radiation signature. Plutonium is also an emitter of neutron radiation, and a neutron signature is of particular interest if found at a border crossing. There are a few commercial neutron emitters used for soil and concrete density measurements and well logging, such as: californium (252Cf), americium-beryllium (AmBe), polonium-beryllium (PoBe), plutonium-beryllium (PuBe), and radium-beryllium (RaBe). Generally, the size of a source for an RDD of any consequence would be fairly large (kilocuries of activity) and thus relatively easier to detect than SNM. SNM masses of interest are on the order of the amounts designated by the IAEA as “significant quantities” of interest, i.e. 8 kg of plutonium and 25 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU). Of these, plutonium emits higher energy gamma rays and neutrons and is thus somewhat easier to detect than HEU.
Generally, deployments utilize a layered defense where various technologies and people are used to interdict contraband. Intelligence may lead to targeting of certain vessels or cargo. Trained inspectors evaluate the attitude and behavior of those passing through control points.
The technology for screening of cargo and passenger transport for radiological threats is more advanced than that for chemical or biological weapons. Radiological screening instrumentation is being deployed broadly whereas chemical and biological screening is largely still in the research and development stage. Both passive and active techniques exist for searching for contraband. Active techniques include x-ray or gamma-ray imaging for hidden materials, acoustic testing for hidden materials, and neutron or gamma-ray induced signatures for explosives and special nuclear material. Passive techniques include various forms of mass spectroscopy for chemical or biological contraband and gamma-ray or neutron signatures for radiological materials.
Radiation portal monitors (RPMs) are used as the main screening tool for vehicles and cargo at borders, supplemented by handheld detectors, personal radiation detectors, and x-ray imaging systems. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is deploying such RPM systems on behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at U.S. ports of entry. These RPMs are supplemented by handheld radio-isotope identifier devices that are used for limited area searches and personal radiation detection devices that are worn by personnel. ANSI standards have recently been developed for the certification of such radiation detection equipment for border security applications.
Some cargo contains naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) that triggers “nuisance” alarms in RPMs at border crossings. NORM includes such materials as kitty litter, fertilizer, road salt, abrasives, and ceramics. Individuals treated with medical radiopharmaceuticals also produce nuisance alarms and can produce cross-talk between adjacent lanes of a multi-lane deployment. The operational impact of nuisance alarms can be significant at border crossings. Methods have been developed for reducing this impact of NORM without negatively affecting the requirements for interdiction of radioactive materials of interest.
Plastic scintillator material is commonly used in RPMs for the detection of gamma rays from radioactive material, primarily due to its efficiency per unit cost compared to other detection materials. The poor resolution and lack of full-energy peaks in the plastic scintillator material used prohibits detailed spectroscopy. However, the limited spectroscopic information from plastic scintillator can be exploited to provide some discrimination. Appropriately applied energy-based algorithms used in RPMs can effectively exploit the crude energy information available from a plastic scintillator to distinguish some NORM. Whenever NORM cargo limits the level of an alarm threshold, energy-based algorithms produce significantly better detection probabilities for small SNM sources than gross-count algorithms.
There has been a significant improvement in commercial radiation interdiction equipment available in the last few years, and a reduction in the cost of many of these systems. Ongoing research and development efforts are allowing for the fielding of new capabilities and integrated systems that will provide an even higher sensitivity to materials of concern.