How Can Hydrogen Be Used as Fuel to Propel Vehicles?


The article Switching to a US hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fleet: The resultant change in emissions, energy use, and greenhouse gases by Colella, W., Jacobson, M. and Golden. D. was published in Journal of Power Sources in October 2005. The greatest part of the information contained in this study is relevant to my research problem: ‘How can hydrogen be used as fuel to propel vehicles?’

Main Body

Colella, W., Jacobson, M. and Golden. D. are experienced specialists in the field of Environmental Engineering who have conducted a number of studies on hydrogen fuel vehicles. Taking into account the fact that the authors of the article under consideration work at the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering of Stanford University, one of the most outstanding educational institutions, it can be stated that their views on the research problem are authoritative. This article can be used by professionals and popular audience. Disregarding the fact that the processes in a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle are a rather complicated issue, the researchers present it clearly, and its simplicity proves the appropriateness of this article for my report.

Using a traditional structure of a scientific report, the authors divided the article into four main parts, including those of introduction posing the research question, methodology representing the main tools used for exploring the processes and relationships, results analysis and conclusion parts. All of these sections are relevant for covering my research problem, but the results analysis shedding light upon emission and energy usage along with the three different scenarios of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV) is especially valuable. In this assignment I will analyze the third section of the article because the comparison of the HFCV scenarios is important for understanding the positive and negative consequences of switching to hydrogen fuel. Colella, Jacobson and Golden (2005, p. 150) admitted that “all HFCV scenarios decrease net air pollution emission, including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, ammonia and carbon monoxide”.

The peculiarities of processes in HFCV scenarios allow reducing the emissions and optimizing the use of the available resources. A fossil fuel such as natural gas or a renewable source such as wind is used in HFCV scenarios as the alternatives to conventional fuel scenarios. The researchers concluded that replacement of the conventional fleet with the HFCV or hybrid electric fossil fuel vehicles would decrease the amount of emissions which are associated with air pollutions and the impact of greenhouse gases upon global warming significantly. Though both hybrid and HFCV scenarios are possible, the latter are recognized by Colella, Jacobson and Golden (2005) as more economy-efficient ones.

For supporting their claim concerning the efficiency of HFCV scenarios for decreasing the emission and impact on global warming, Colella, Jacobson and Golden (2005) compare energy and pollutant flows in various fuel scenarios. Taking into account the costs required for replacing the fuel scenarios for the whole on-road fleet and expenses on the future production of fuel supply, the authors even estimate the hypothetical risks of hydrogen leakage. Still, according to the results of the study, it can be concluded that disregarding the fact that the hazards of hydrogen unintentional leakage are higher as compared to other gaseous fuels, HFCV would release even less hydrogen into atmosphere than conventional vehicles do due to incomplete combustion.

Implementing HFCV scenarios and using the steam reforming of natural gas, wind energy or coal gasification scenarios as the sources of hydrogen for fuel allows reducing the pollutant emission and impact of greenhouse gases. The results of the current study have shown that the replacement of conventional scenarios with hybrid or HFCV scenarios deriving fuel from natural gas, wind energy or coal gasification reduce emission by 6, 14, 23 and 1% respectively (See Figure 1) (Colella, Jacobson and Golden, 2005, p. 150). Even HFCV deriving hydrogen from natural gas achieves 1% reduction of greenhouse gas emission as compared to conventional strategies.

Reduction of pollutant emission through replacing the conventional mechanisms with HFCV scenarios
Figure 1 Reduction of pollutant emission through replacing the conventional mechanisms with HFCV scenarios.

Colella, Jacobson and Golden (2005) noted that “replacing the current fossil fuel on-road vehicle fleet (FFOV) with a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fleet would result in a significant reduction in air pollutant emission, even in comparison with a switch to hybrid-electric gasoline vehicles” (p. 178).


Since environmental issues and expenses on the replacement of the fuel scenarios are central to understanding the main benefits of using hydrogen fuel, I will use the comparison of various scenarios and corresponding level of emission reduction from the article by Colella, Jacobson and Golden (2005) in my report. However, the research of studies conducted by other experts is important for investigating other researchers’ views on the same issues. The comparison of the results of the current study with the findings of other investigators would be valuable for supporting or rejecting the researchers’ claims as well as complimenting the arguments provided by Colella, Jacobson and Golden (2005) with additional information shedding light upon new aspects of the discussed problems.

Reference List

Colella, W., Jacobson, M. and Golden. D. (2005). Switching to a US hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fleet: The resultant change in emissions, energy use, and greenhouse gases. Journal of Power Sources, 150: 150-181.