At the American Council on Renewable Energy's RETECH conference and expo last week, I was able to listen to a few presentations on renewables and transportation. It's always interesting to hear about the auto industry from people on the outside, and the RETECH presentations lived up to expectations. I'll be writing about a few of them this week.

The most full-throated defense of hydrogen vehicles I heard was issued by Sandy Thomas, president of H2Gen Innovations, during the "Hydrogen, Fuel Cells & Advanced Engines" panel. H2Gen is mostly interested in stationary hydrogen production stations, but Thomas believes that hydrogen is the one right propulsion system for vehicles, since nothing else will meet America's greenhouse gas emissions, energy independence, and clean air targets. He had the presentation to prove that H2 cars beat battery vehicles, too, and was willing to share his slides with AutoblogGreen readers. You can read them all in the gallery below (there's a reason we try to post items like this at the end of the day, when we think you'll have time to indulge a bit). I've also written up some more of what Thomas said after the jump.

Thomas says that fuel cells win because they are lighter and smaller and can be refueled faster. He also made two claims that it would have been nice to have an EV proponent on hand for to comment on: that fuel cells "cost less" and "reduce greenhouse gasses more." At this point, discussing the actual consumer cost of batteries vs. fuel cells is a bit of an exercise in fantasy. I mean, the Honda FCX isn't cheaper than a Tesla Roadster, is it? And what about the comparative cost of hydrogen refueling and high-speed electrical recharging infrastructures? Thomas had answers, but his claims went unchallenged.

Thomas delved into the possibility of making hydrogen from ethanol sources (see also: this). He estimates that you can go 16.5 miles on a gallon of ethanol in an ICE-powered vehicle, but you can go 28.3 miles on that same gallon if you first convert it to hydrogen and then use it in a fuel cell. The 10 kilograms of biomass that would be used to make the 16.5-mile gallon of ethanol would be even better used for transportation if it's converted into hydrogen in an indirect gasifier. That way, the 10 kg can propel a car 45.4 miles, according to Thomas' calculations.

As for GHG emissions, Thomas believes that only fuel cells will allow the U.S. to meet a goal of reducing pollution levels to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2100. The next best vehicle types in his slide are, in order, hydrogen ICEs, pure electric vehicles, and then plug-in hybrids that also burn ethanol. Thomas' slides on the weight and size of batteries and fuel cells are here and here.

Finally, let's take a look at Thomas' upbeat conclusion. He believes that a hydrogen infrastructure could be put into place with public/private investments of about $15 billion over 14 years, much less than the Iraq War or the federal ethanol subsidy. Whaddya think about that?

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