Funding Casts Doubt on Current Technology

Releasing the first major chunk of federal funding for the initiative, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced US$350 million in nationwide funding for science and research projects to establish a hydrogen economy. This comes at a time when many energy policy experts have questioned hydrogen’s ability to realistically replace current technologies, mitigate pollution and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil – and all within the next decade.

Detroit, Michigan – April 28, 2004 [] First mentioned in the President Bush’s State of the Union Speech, the Bush Administration proposed a multi-year research funding effort for program like FreedomCAR and the Hydrogen fuel initiative. The $350 million represents nearly one-third of the President’s $1.2 billion commitment in research funding to bring hydrogen and fuel cell technology from the laboratory to the showroom. “President Bush’s Administration recognizes that a hydrogen economy has the long-term potential to deliver greater energy independence by reducing America’s dependence on foreign sources of energy,” said Energy Secretary Abraham. Hydrogen’s “Long term potential” is one of the major complaints about the President’s pursuit of a hydrogen economy. Many questions remain uncertain and in some cases are a source of friction. How will the hydrogen be mass-produced – from fossil fuels, “clean coal” or renewable energy? Where is the transportation and fueling infrastructure? How long until hydrogen fuel cell cars are a consumer reality? Are the net energy losses from conversion worth such a massive undertaking when there are many existing technologies that can greatly reduce pollution and America’s dependence of foreign oil, such as the growing hybrid-electric car market, and direct use of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar. Running counter to many experts in the field of energy policy, the Bush Administration and Secretary Abraham don’t seem to think any of these technologies can meet the countries current needs. “It (a hydrogen economy) offers immense environmental benefits that current energy technologies cannot meet,” Abraham said. “This multi-million dollar commitment to research is a down payment on a more energy and environmentally secure future.” Selected through a merit-reviewed, competitive process, the projects involve 30 lead organizations and include over 100 partners. Recipients include academia, industry and DOE national laboratories. Key research areas include: Hydrogen Storage “Centers of Excellence” for exploratory research in hydrogen storage. Each center includes a DOE national laboratory lead and several university and industry partners. Responding to DOE’s “Grand Challenge” solicitation, these centers will address the major technical barrier to on-board hydrogen storage – storing enough hydrogen to enable greater than 300 mile driving range without impacting cargo or passenger space. In addition, individual universities, research institutes, and small businesses will explore new materials for hydrogen storage. The DOE share for this National Hydrogen Storage Project is $150 million over 5 years with an additional private cost share of approximately $20 million. Vehicle and Infrastructure “Learning” Demonstrations “Learning demonstrations” that will provide important data to focus research efforts. The use of hydrogen as a transportation fuel and the development of fuel-cell vehicles will require extensive research and an implementation strategy. Automakers and energy companies will work together with their teams under this project to demonstrate integrated and complete system solutions operating in real world environments. These demonstrations will assess the research program’s progress toward meeting the goal of making a commercialization decision by 2015. The expected DOE share is $190 million over 5 years with an additional private cost share of approximately $190 million. Fuel Cell Research Fuel cell research projects that address critical fuel cell cost and durability issues for consumer electronics and other applications. The DOE share is $13 million dollars over 3 years with an additional private cost share of approximately $10 million. These selections are in addition to the $75 million in fuel cell awards announced by Secretary Abraham last year. Hydrogen Education Hydrogen technology education projects include middle school and high school curricula and teacher professional development. These projects pair hydrogen technology experts with professional educators and experienced curriculum developers to create hands-on activities and lessons to engage students in the developing hydrogen economy. Teacher professional development is an essential component, as teachers nationwide will not only learn how to use the materials but also receive the training they need to build their expertise and enhance their ability to educate students. The hydrogen education projects also include the development of materials suitable for a general audience. These materials will help introduce the public to the hydrogen vision, as well as provide a better understanding of how fuel cells work; how hydrogen is produced, delivered, and stored; and the facts about hydrogen safety. Secretary Abraham believes the private market will soon answer many of the ‘hydrogen economy’s’ unanswered questions. “The financial commitment of the private sector dramatically increases the probability of success that we will overcome the technology challenges in this important endeavor and achieve the President’s vision.” Abraham will make additional stops in Golden, Colorado and Los Angeles, California. There, he will speak to the National Hydrogen Association’s meeting. For more information on specific recipients of funding and research contracts see the link below.
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