With an OPEC gun to our head perhaps fuel cell cars should accelerate

With the OPEC quasi cartel putting a gun to our heads perhaps it’s time to make a right turn at the fork in the road called self reliance. Last fall I blogged that I anticipated a barrel of oil hitting $100. As you read today’s pricing it is now $109.20.

Ron Winship recently blogged a price at $200. He might have been joking but let’s think about the history of crude oil pricing. When do we pull our heads out of the sand and say enough is enough. Keep in mind that the OPEC conglomerate was formed in 1960.

Democrats in Congress fight our desire to drill in ANWR yet complain that this administration has failed to enact an energy policy. If given the green light to proceed in ANWR it will send a message to all those who are gouging American drivers that we will stand united to deal with their stranglehold. Perhaps some of these environmentalists should look in the mirror. Let them explain to their constituents why they are getting gouged at the pump leaving less money from their pay checks to feed and clothe their families.

History. In 1958 we paid $3.00 per barrel of crude. You read correctly. That is not a typo. In the 1972-1974 Yom Kippur war with Israel it increased by 400 percent to $12. In 1978 the price was $13.55. Fast forward to recent years when in Nov of 2003 the price per barrel was $25, $60 in 2005, $75 in 2006, $92 in Nov 2007 to today’s cost which has smashed the $100 barrier.

I do not wish for Ron’s prediction to become a reality. However if you extrapolate the history to date we may see $200 in the next five to ten years. Do your own graphing.

The following story is from today’s Sac Bee. Before giving it my total endorsement we need to see if there is a domino effect that could create other considerations such as the ill conceived Ethanol alternative that is driving up the cost of basic food staples. Larry Gilbert

“Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle development still in the slow lane”

By Jim Downing – jdowning@sacbee.com

Note: Here is the link to the story. I will include a few paragraphs to entice you to reading it


When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger launched the state’s Hydrogen Highway in 2004, he said Californians were about to invent the future.

We’re still working on it.

Boosted by $1.2 billion in federal money over the past five years, automakers have been making strides with hydrogen fuel cells. Building filling stations for those vehicles, however, is another matter – what a top Bush administration transportation official refers to as the equivalent of a moon shot.

So on Monday, about 40 automotive and air quality experts from around the country sat down at the California Fuel Cell Partnership headquarters in West Sacramento to brainstorm how to foster a national hydrogen-fueling network. The partnership is a collaboration of 32 organizations, including automakers, government agencies and energy and oil companies. It was created in 1999, and the West Sacramento headquarters opened in November 2000.

“The research is largely complete. What we need to do is focus on the infrastructure piece,” said Paul Brubaker, who heads the Research and Innovative Technology Administration for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Hydrogen is attractive as an auto fuel because it promises both the pump-and-go convenience of gasoline and no emissions of either greenhouse gases or smog-forming pollutants.

In a fuel-cell vehicle, hydrogen combines with oxygen, yielding a current that drives an electric motor. The tailpipe spews nothing but water vapor and heat.

“Zero-carbon” hydrogen can be made by splitting water molecules using electricity generated from renewable sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels. But because that process currently is quite expensive, most hydrogen gas is instead produced from natural gas through a process that does release greenhouse gases.

As the fuel-cell prototypes zipping quietly around the West Sacramento streets Monday showed, hydrogen vehicles are well on their way to being ready for the street.

“The performance of hydrogen fuel cell cars is not that much of a concern. They have enough get-up-and-go for most drivers,” said Len Brewster, a Detroit-based auto industry analyst. “The problem is going to be setting up the infrastructure to keep these cars fueled and running.”

Absent a network of filling stations, automakers say, they won’t be able to scale up production of fuel-cell vehicles to the levels needed to drive costs down.

Existing prototypes are either one-of-a-kind or manufactured in small lots, making them extremely expensive. Several companies estimate that competitively priced fuel-cell models could be ready for the market by 2017 – but again, only if customers have a way to fill up.

Federal energy officials and auto industry analysts have estimated that it would cost $10 billion to $15 billion to establish a refueling infrastructure in the nation’s top 100 major metropolitan areas. Other estimates, which include costs of building large-scale hydrogen production, distribution and storage systems, are much higher.

California’s Hydrogen Highway is meant as a first step to a network of hydrogen filling stations. After Schwarzenegger made hydrogen fuel a centerpiece of his environmental agenda in his first year in office, regulators drew up a plan that called for the state to spend as much as $11 million annually on vehicle incentives and cost-sharing grants to yield a network of 100 hydrogen filling stations by 2010.

As of January, however, only 24 hydrogen filling stations were operating around the state, according to Fuel Cell Partnership data. Somewhat more than 200 hydrogen-powered vehicles now travel California.

“We’re not going to open stations if there aren’t vehicles to fill,” Paauwe said.

“People need to understand that this is a matter of decades. Several decades,” said Joan Ogden, co-director of the Hydrogen Pathways Program at UC Davis.

Gilbert Note: Every successful private sector business operates from a long term business plan be it anywhere from five to 10 years. As stated above fuel cell technology will not be in mass production tomorrow but if we continue to ignore the energy challenge the United States of America will become a third world country.

About Larry Gilbert