Emerging Issues Relating to the Burgeoning Hydrogen Economy

By Crofton, Peter M. | Energy Law Journal, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Emerging Issues Relating to the Burgeoning Hydrogen Economy


Crofton, Peter M., Energy Law Journal


Energy affects, and even defines, how people live their lives. Everyday, people consume energy to cook, clean, and travel. The darkness is conquered by lights, the indoor temperature is controlled by heating and air conditioning, and clean water is available on demand. The elevators people ride, the traffic lights under which people pass, and the telephones people use to communicate all require energy of one form or another.

Since the late 1800s, the United States has relied on water, petroleum, natural gas, and coal as the primary sources of the energy consumed. The United States' ever increasing demand for energy has demonstrated that these sources of energy are finite, and using these sources entails growing financial and other costs. Thus, the search for alternative energy sources has increasingly focused on hydrogen as a fuel source.1

In his January 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush committed the United States to having a viable hydrogen fuel transportation system within a generation:

A single chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car-producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first.,car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.2

The lure of hydrogen as a fuel is the promise of a cheap, clean and virtually endless supply of energy. While it remains to be seen if hydrogen fuels can satisfy their advance billing, it is clear that hydrogen will be an important, if not predominate, energy source in the future, as reflected in the recently enacted Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The generation time frame set by President Bush reflects the reality that the hydrogen fuel technology simply is not currently ready for such a momentous change. Nevertheless, government and industry are well on the way to developing the technology to fulfill the President's vision. But technology is not the only roadblock in the development of the hydrogen economy.

Many legal and regulatory issues must be resolved before hydrogen fuel can be a viable alternative energy source. Unfortunately, many of these critical non-technical issues are not yet being addressed.4 This article outlines some of the areas that need thoughtful debate to establish the right rules for this soon-to-bemajor component of everyday life. The purpose of this article is not to ask questions without answering them but to present alternative approaches without advocating a position. In short, this article is to start the debate that will answer these and many other questions about hydrogen fuels.37

I. THE ENERGY POLICY ACT OF 2005

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) codifies the federal government's commitment to developing a hydrogen economy. EPAct 2005 has wide ranging hydrogen fuel related provisions for technology research and development as well as fostering the development of a hydrogen fuels infrastructure. In addition, EPAct 2005 sets forth specific hydrogen fuel related goals, including:

1. "to enable and promote comprehensive development, demonstration, and commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell technology in partnership with industry";5

2. "to build a mature hydrogen economy that creates fuel diversity in the massive transportation sector of the United States";6

3. "to sharply decrease the dependency of the United States on imported oil, eliminate most emissions from the transportation sector, and greatly enhance our energy security"; and6

4. "to create, strengthen, and protect a sustainable national energy economy."8

In light of these goals and the number of specific hydrogen fuel programs addressed by EPAct 2005, EPAct 2005 is the single most comprehensive and significant piece of federal legislation for the development and commercialization of hydrogen fuels. …

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