While a hydrogen vehicle economy is expected by many to be merely 20 years away, some experts are less optimistic and predict it could be up to a century before hydrogen becomes the driving force behind the US economy.

The US hopes to fill its roads with hydrogen-powered cars in 2 decades and President Bush unveiled a $1.2bn US initiative in 2003, to reverse its dependence on foreign oil and produce hydrogen.

This, however, requires the clean fuel to be cheap and practical before it can replace oil. Speaking of the 2003 initiative, Timothy Wilkins, an attorney of the Bracewell & Giuliani LLP firm specialising in environmental and energy regulation, commented, “That was ambitious. I think in a century hydrogen could fill a role like that, but not in 20 years.”

“To produce it like the gasoline scale, to get it in the vehicle fleet, fully integrated in the vehicle fleet and the infrastructure, the fuelling stations…it will take one century,” he added.

Universities, major companies and vehicle manufacturers, as well as the US Department of Energy, are all investing in research to find better solutions for hydrogen production. Even those most closely connected with the fuel would seem to agree that the practicalities need to be addressed first.

Jerry Hinkle, president of the National Hydrogen Association, said, “In an extreme scenario, hydrogen has the capabilities technically to become a universal source of energy…but the big deal is economics.”