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Towards a National Policy Dialogue on Hydrogen in the USA. Presentation on “Science, Society and Sustainability” Conference, Santorini, June 18-21, 2006 Prof. Philip J. Vergragt Ph.D . Visiting Scholar, MIT Senior Associate, Tellus Institute, Boston

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Towards a national policy dialogue on hydrogen in the usa l.jpg

Towards a National Policy Dialogue on Hydrogen in the USA

Presentation on “Science, Society and Sustainability” Conference, Santorini, June 18-21, 2006

Prof. Philip J. Vergragt Ph.D.

Visiting Scholar, MIT

Senior Associate, Tellus Institute, Boston

Former Professor of Technology Assessment, TU Delft


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My background

  • Chemistry and Society (1970s)

  • Technological Innovation studies (1980s)

  • Sustainable Technology Development (1990s); visioning and backcasting

  • Consumption: the Sustainable Household (end 1990s)

  • Energy, Transportation, Hydrogen, Buildings, Social Learning (2000s)

  • Sustainability scenarios; Great Transition (2000s)


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Towards a National Policy Dialogue on Hydrogen in the USA

  • Introduction; context; challenge

  • Visioning, scenario development, backcasting and socio-technical experiments

  • A methodology for stakeholder dialogue

  • Hydrogen scenarios

  • A stakeholder dialogue

  • Conclusions


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1. Introduction

  • Hydrogen is touted as ‘fuel of the future’

  • In the far future, transportation will be either by hydrogen fuel cells, or battery-electric, or by biofuels

  • Although hydrogen is attractive for transportation, there is also a number of problems

  • Hydrogen is an energy carrier, and needs to be generated sustainably on a large scale

  • Is hydrogen a ‘hype’? Is the hype over?

  • Arguments for a structured dialogue


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World Petroleum Use for Transportation and Other Purposes, 1980 – 2020

Source: EIA, International Energy Outlook 1999


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Context: Sustainability; climate change, innovation, life styles

  • Sustainable energy generation (including conservation) is crucial in all sectors

  • Transportation is special: mobile energy source needed

  • Transportation dominated by private car: highly inefficient in many aspects: energy, space use, suburbization

  • Private car/ SUV has become the symbol of freedom, success, prosperity, the ultimate lifestyle symbol (but, NYC….)



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How does it work? (2) styles

  • It is the reversal of electrolysis:

    2 H20 + electricity---2 H2 + O2

  • It is invented in 1843 by Robert Groves

  • It has been applied in Apollo and Gemini space programs (1960 and 70-ies)

  • The reaction works only in the presence of a catalyst: Platinum

  • Hydrogen needs to be stored, which is quite difficult


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3. How does it work? (3) styles

  • Hydrogen needs to be generated (it does not exist in nature)

  • The generation of hydrogen costs a lot of (fossil) fuel

  • There are two main routes: electrolysis and steam conversion of hydrocarbons

  • Steam conversion is a reaction where a hydrocarbon plus water yields CO2 and H2. CO2 could be captured and stored, but the technology is far from proven


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Arguments for a structured dialogue styles

  • Technical experts strongly disagree about hydrogen as a solution (CEN Aug 2005)

  • The debate is not only about technological options; normative issues play a role

  • The problem is complex (energy security, climate change)

  • Man-made climate change is still disputed

  • Nuclear energy dispute back on the agenda

  • Other options (renewables, energy conservation) are part of the debate.


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2. Visioning, Scenario development, Backcasting, and Socio-technical experiments

  • Visions are powerful devices that can orient and structure actions and behaviors

  • Scenarios can either be trend-following or trend-breaching (normative)

  • A scenario combines a future vision and a pathway how to get there

  • Backcasting is looking back from a desired future vision and develop a pathway


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Backcasting Socio-technical experiments

  • Backcasting is “creating a robust picture of the future, and start to think about which (technical and other) means are necessary to reach this state of affairs” (Vergragt and Jansen, 1993)

  • Backcasting implies an operational plan for the present that is designed to move forward towards anticipate future states …Such a plan should be built around processes characterized as interactive and iterative” (Vergragt and Van der Wel, 1998)


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Bounded Socio-Technical Experiments (BSTE) Socio-technical experiments

  • In a recent paper, Halina Brown et al. coined the term ‘BSTE’

  • A BSTE is ,…an attempt to introduce a new technology on a scale bounded in space and time…’

  • ‘…carried out by a coalition of actors…’

  • …It is recognizable as an experiment

  • …It encompasses learning by doing, doing by learning, trying out new strategies, and continuous course correction

  • ….It is driven by a long-term vision


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Learning Socio-technical experiments

We define learning as three interrelated shifts:

  • A shift in the framing of the problem and the solution directions

  • A shift the principal approaches to solving the problem

  • A shift in the relationships between the participants in the experiment, including convergence of goals and problem definitions


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Learning (2) Socio-technical experiments

Learning is derived from organizational and policy-oriented learning

Two types of learning:

  • ‘technical’, ‘adaptive’, ‘single-loop’ searching for new (policy) instruments in the context of fixed policies

  • ‘Higher order’, ‘generative’, ‘double-loop’ learning involves a change in norms, values, goals and operating procedures


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3. A methodology for stakeholder dialogue Socio-technical experiments

  • A stakeholder dialogue process has been successfully applied in the “National Energy Policy Initiative (NEPI) in 2002 by the Consensus Building Institute

  • The process consisted of stakeholder interviews, expert workshop, briefings to Congress committees, and wider dissemination

  • The results were: a diagnosis, a long-term vision, a set of top priority areas, and policy strategies

  • The final outcome was disappointing because the White House was not participating


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Methodology (2) Socio-technical experiments

  • Higher-order learning processes should become central in the stakeholder dialogue.

  • In order to facilitate learning, a shared vision should be developed about sustainable transportation

  • Hydrogen could act as a ‘catalyst’ in such a process


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  • In a stakeholder dialogue process, facts could be separated from fiction and political bias….

  • …..interests could be mapped and identified…..

  • Short-term and long-term arguments could be separated

  • Visioning and backcasting could be the basis of dialogue and learning

  • Tellus scenario study could form a useful input for such a process


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4. Hydrogen scenarios: Tellus study from fiction and political bias….

  • Tellus Institute, Boston, has developed scenarios for a transition to 95% hydrogen fuel cell cars in 2050

  • They investigated all possible routes for hydrogen generation (centrally and decentrally; transportation, and delivery, and looked at the costs

  • They found that energy efficiency saves more greenhouse gas emissions than hydrogen


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Table 2‑1 from fiction and political bias….Scenarios explored in this study


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Figure 5‑1 Fuel cell vehicle stock turnover levels from fiction and political bias….


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Figure 6‑2 Crude oil demand, USA from fiction and political bias….




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Conclusions from the Tellus study USA

  • Strong political will is necessary for a transition to a hydrogen society

  • A clear strategy including experiments, demo’s, transitional technologies, risk-reducing incentives is also necessary

  • However, energy efficiency and renewable energy do better for GHG reduction than BAU+ hydrogen for transportation

  • Electricity and biofuels are strong contenders

  • Short-term focus on hydrogen may have negative benefits for near-term CO2 emissions


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Adding to the conclusions USA

  • Hydrogen is no panacea or ‘silver bullet’

  • Technological breakthroughs are necessary, in fuel cells and H-storage

  • Chicken-egg problem of infrastructure needs to be solved

  • There are strong alternatives: biomass and battery-electric, and also hybrids

  • Generation of enough sustainable energy is a major bottleneck

  • Carbon capture and storage is possible, but still unproven

  • Probably life-style changes are unavoidable


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5. Policy stakeholder dialogue USA

Two main questions are proposed:

  • “How much could hydrogen contribute to solve energy security and climate change problems in the long run for the USA?

  • Under which conditions should a hydrogen infrastructure for the USA be developed?”


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Some discussion points…. USA

  • Long term benefits vs. short-term urgency

  • Renewable energy for the electricity grid rather than for hydrogen production

  • R&D policy: How much for energy conservation and how much for hydrogen?

  • Keep many options open vs. pick a winner

  • Pave the way to hydrogen by other applications (laptops, mobile phones)?

  • Public awareness should be driving force

  • Investigate the negative aspects upfront


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6. Conclusions USA

  • A stakeholder dialogue could be the basis for a strong strategic policy package, endorsed by all stakeholders

  • However, differences between protagonists and adversaries run deep (‘wicked problem’)

  • Protagonists argue that in the long run hydrogen is the only viable zero emission solution

  • Antagonists argue on various levels: other options are more attractive (biomass, electric), hydrogen is not cost-effective, and/or ultimately we need life-style changes


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Thank you for your interest… USA

  • …Questions?

  • www.tellus.org

  • [email protected]

  • vergragt&@mit.edu


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