In May, Energy Secretary Steven Chu had $100 million slated for hydrogen fuel cell research cut from his budget. Now it looks as if Congress might be reversing that move.
This month, $26.9 billion was approved for the Energy Department by the House of Representatives in a 320-97 vote. The figure includes $153 million for hydrogen and fuel cells in the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program and an additional $40.45 million for hydrogen from coal.
Once in the Senate, however, the numbers got much larger; $190 million for the hydrogen program was approved by the Appropriations Committee. A vote in the Senate for the hydrogen funding could happen in the next few weeks, before the scheduled August recess.
National Hydrogen Association spokesperson Patrick Serfass said they are encouraged by the voting. "Congress," he says, "has shown that it is very well educated about these technologies. It sees the benefits of hydrogen and fuel cells, and understands we need to pursue a portfolio of technologies, not just one or two. Frankly, it’s too early to choose."
Serfass added that the proposed budget contained no cuts for battery manufacturing or research, "and the fuel-cell community thinks that’s a good thing. But you can’t design a family-sized, long-range vehicle with just batteries ‘ you need something else, and we think that something else is hydrogen fuel cells."
Energy Secretary Chu explained that the thought was that the U.S. was not likely to use hydrogen fuel technology to convert the entire car industry within the next twenty years which was a question they had to consider when trying to trim the budget.
Larry Burns, GM’s former vice president of research and development and strategic planning, who is described as GM’s "fuel cell champion" retired on July 15. Burns warned that cutting hydrogen cell funding would harm domestic automakers and has said, "Japan and Germany are moving forward with their government-funded programs. This is strategically important. Do we want to wake up five years from now and say, ‘ËœWhat happened to us?’ "
Toyota Motor Company recently reported that in 2015, the price for its first production fuel-cell car will be low enough to "shock" the industry.
The attraction of hydrogen fuel cell technology lies in the ability to combine hydrogen and oxygen with only water coming from the tailpipe, which makes it the ultimate clean fuel solution.
Although the price of oil now is lower, this could lead to higher consumption. The need for clean technology alternative fuel sources has not diminished and is a lasting concern for the U.S. government, automakers and consumers.