Momentum Builds for Lucrative Hydrogen Energy Prize

Four expert witnesses on Capitol Hill recently testified in support of a prize to promote technological advances in hydrogen technology. The witnesses testified at a hearing on a bill by Research Subcommittee Chairman Bob Inglis (R-SC) that would establish a prize competition to encourage the research and development (R&D) necessary to overcome the technical barriers that currently stand in the way of hydrogen becoming a practical alternative to oil in fueling our transportation sector.

The legislation, H.R. 5143, the H-Prize Act of 2006, ties in with energy legislation that House Republican Leadership plans to move within the next couple weeks to address rising fuel prices. Testifying were Dr. Peter Diamandis, Chairman of the X Prize Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering innovation through the use of competitions; Dr. David Bodde, Director of Innovation and Public Policy at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research; Dr. David L. Greene, corporate fellow of Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Mr. Phillip Baxley, President of Shell Hydrogen, L.L.C. “Suddenly, the whole nation is focused on gas prices and our ‘addiction to oil’ and the Congress is in a panic trying to figure out how to respond,” said Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). “Our options in the immediate future are limited, but our options in the mid- and long-term are not. The hydrogen economy holds out great promise but it also presents great hurdles. We are pretty far away from knowing how to create, store, distribute and use hydrogen cleanly and efficiently. We need to devote all the ingenuity we can muster to attack this problem. Boehlert said H.R. 5143, introduced by Chairman Inglis, is carefully crafted both to encourage ongoing work that can lead to incremental improvements in hydrogen technology, and to draw more scientists and engineers into trying to remove the highest hurdles on the hydrogen highway. The Inglis H-Prize bill is modeled after the Ansari X Prize, which spurred the first privately funded suborbital human spaceflight. The H-Prize bill includes three prize categories: — Technological advancements: Four $1 million prizes awarded annually in the categories of hydrogen production, storage, distribution and utilization. — Prototypes: One $4 million prize awarded every other year for the creation of a working hydrogen vehicle prototype. — Transformation technologies: A maximum $100 million prize — $10 million in cash and up to $90 million in matching funds for private capital — would be awarded for changes in hydrogen technologies that meet or exceed objective criteria in production and distribution to the consumer. H.R. 5143 would direct the Secretary of Energy to contract with a private foundation or panel that would include experts in the field to establish criteria for the prizes and administer the prize contest. The size of the prize did concern some lawmakers; Energy Subcommittee Chairman Judy Biggert (R-IL) questioned the size of the $100 million grand prize. “Isn’t a billion or trillion dollar market prize enough? Isn’t this enough of an incentive to encourage scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and energy companies large and small to invest in the development of fuel cells and new and innovative ways to produce and store hydrogen?” Biggert added, “I am in no way convinced that we need to spend $100 million on such a prize…The prize of all prizes — the Nobel Prize — is only a $1.3 million award.” H.R. 5143 is cosponsored by Chairman Boehlert (R-NY), Environment, Technology, and Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), and Science Committee Members Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL). The Committee intends to mark up the legislation at both the subcommittee and Full Committee level in May. H.R. 5143 could be considered by the House within weeks.
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