In book two of the conference report on Public Law 111-8, the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, Congress directed the Department of Transportation's (DOT's) Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) "to provide a report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 90 days of the enactment of this Act detailing the challenges of installing hydrogen infrastructure. This report should include a comprehensive plan to increase the number of hydrogen fueling stations around the country, focusing on the regions with greatest demand and need. The agency is instructed to coordinate with the Department of Energy to complete this report."
Building a national infrastructure for hydrogen will not be an easy task. It will take a dedicated long-term focus by government and the private sector. As one participant at the National Academies of Science, National Research Council (NRC)'s Summit on America's Energy Future indicated, the country is at the beginning of a 30-year planning window (from 2010 through 2040) for putting in place the policies, technologies and infrastructures needed to meet the nation's mobility needs through the 22nd century.1
In the past few years, DOT, the Department of Energy (DOE), and their industrial and academic partners have made significant advancements in putting hydrogen technologies on the path to validation and eventual commercialization. Notable improvements were reported and independently verified for the performance and costs of fuel cells, the capacity of on-board hydrogen storage, and hydrogen fueling technology.
There is no single national plan for building a national infrastructure. Instead, there are a variety of national plans orchestrating each of the numerous activities that constitute a hydrogen infrastructure. This is due, in large part, to the dispersal of authority and responsibility for all of these elements across the public and private sectors. Coordination efforts are focused on the process owners and stakeholders who make the largest difference in achieving disparate goals. However, there are national, and sometimes international, efforts addressing each of the key aspects such as safety codes and standards, Federal research and development, requirements for station siting, and providing outreach and tools for State and local decisionmakers. The work that is being done today is providing the context that will make a national framework possible.
Supported by this work, senior decisionmakers face choices as they reconcile and integrate these and other accomplishments into a path forward for an alternatively fueled America. One important task will be to harmonize all of the short, medium and long-term solutions this transition involves. However, this is not solely a Federal responsibility. State, local and private sector stakeholders will be key to leveraging and realizing a common commitment for this fundamental change in American mobility. Accomplishing this transition will be no less impressive than building a transcontinental railroad or the Interstate highway system.
Key challenge areas decisionmakers face include:
Public & private sector organizational
Safety codes & standards
As for identifying a network of hydrogen stations, there is much future work to be done. From a systemic perspective, NRC envisions that by 2050 there could be 220 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, 1,200 to 1,800 hydrogen refueling stations, 210 central plants, and 80,000 miles of pipeline.2 Today, DOE estimates there are about 60 hydrogen refueling stations across the nation. The most active effort to create this infrastructure is the California Fuel Cell Partnership's program to create 41 stations within its state by 2015.3