It is clear that many of the technologies necessary for the transition to the hydrogen economy are technically possible. The main problem is their high cost. Indeed, the possibility must be accepted that equivalent or lower costs than the current situation may never be achieved. However, cost is not the only issue, and the need to replace fossil fuels as well as environmental benefits must also be considered. Furthermore, as there now appears to be a firm commitment to research and development in this direction, costs will certainly come down, either through research breakthroughs or through the economies of scale that come into play as any technology becomes more widespread. For the developing world, the cost issue is of course a more acute problem; however, it may be possible for developing countries to take advantage of the worldwide research effort, perhaps skipping the necessity to establish the fossil fuel infrastructures present in the developed world. Further along the line, in the case of establishing a renewable hydrogen economy, the natural resources of any country will play an important role. For example, Iceland is usually cited as the country closest to achieving a renewable hydrogen economy. There, the enormous geothermal energy resources available are harnessed for hydrogen production, and its widespread distribution is made easier by the relatively small population. The potential of any other country to develop a renewable hydrogen economy will depend in a similar way on its natural resources.
It is difficult to predict which of the technological options discussed in this chapter will become the standard technology for automotive application. It is possible that more than one system will be widely used. However, at present, the general consensus seems to be that the long-term option will be fuel-cell vehicles with onboard hydrogen storage linked to the hydrogen distribution network discussed above. With regard to the storage material, the situation of carbon-based materials is delicately balanced, and if the reproducibility problems are not resolved soon, this area will almost certainly experience a decline of interest. This leaves hydrides, although it is an open question as to which hydride or form of hydride storage system will prevail.
University of Trieste, Centre of Excellence for Nanostructured Material, Consortium INSTM, MIUR FIRB2001, and FISR2002 are acknowledged for financial support.
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