INCOSE 2008 – Imagine the Complex Systems for Hydrogen-Based Transportation

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Tuesday’s favorite talk for me was “A System-of-Systems Framework for the Future Hydrogen-Based Transportation Economy” by Michael Duffy & Debra Sandor of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This was an interesting talk, less because of any discussion of requirements and more because it represents a complex systems engineering challenge. Also, I just wanted to share some of the topics that are prevalent at this conference outside discussions about requirements specifically.


In 2003, Bush allocated $1.2M towards developing clean hydrogen-powered automobiles. The administration has actually followed through and by the end of the year, will have spent just about $1.2M. The work at the National Renewable Energy Lab is using this funding to research and develop technologies to support the aim, including determining how they might guide the transformation of energy sources in application.


So “conveniently”, the generalized hydrogen supply chain looks a lot like the supply chain of petroleum. First, there is what they call feedstock (natural gas, biomasss, coal, or water) which logistically must be delivered (by pipes, trucks, rails, barges) to hydrogen conversion plants (this part varies by feedstock), and then from there, the hydrogen must be distributed (by trucks, etc. to fuel stations).


However, over the next 30 years, there is an expectation that as a society will move through internal combustion engine improvements, cleaner renewable fuels, then to hybrid electric and eventually to hydrogen fuel cells. The big systems engineering challenge is in the transformation from petroleum to biofuel to hydrogen systems. There is no single solution for the future, the mix of technologies will change over time, and there will never be a “flip the switch” moment in transition. Add to this a challenge that corporations will not build hydrogen cars if there aren’t convenient fueling stations for drivers to refill. But they won’t build the stations if there aren’t cars to use them.


Ultimately, the described projects at the laboratory to solve these challenges are a long way from complete – they are currently focused on system definition, and nowhere near design and development. Though, I suppose at this early stage, they are spending more time now on requirements than anything else! Dr. Duffy’s presented timeline looks like 2015-2020 for the government to be using hydrogen fleets, around 2020-2030 we will have personal vehicles powered by hydrogen, and by 2040 everyone would have one.


(*All data here is sourced from the talk at INCOSE 2008, and the actual paper should be review for references).

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