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February 6, 2003

By Robert E. Willis, Web Editor of Hydrogen Now!

We applaud the President’s message about hydrogen in the State of the Union address.  No other single item in the news has had as much positive impact for the hydrogen movement.  However, the amount of funds earmarked for the necessary research and development to build the infrastructure is insufficient.  We are also concerned that the Administration has indicated that it is going to support nuclear and coal interests for the production of hydrogen rather than renewable energy.

According to an article from Reuters, the President’s 2004 budget has allocated the following research funds

Research Program

Amount Allocated

Fossil Fuel Research

$533.3 Million

Hydrogen Technology Research

$88 Million

Wind Energy Research

Cut by 5.5 percent

Solar Energy Research

Increased by 0.1 percent

Clean Coal Research

Increased by 0.7 percent

The 2003 budget cut the Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) program by 100%.  CSP is currently the most efficient method of producing electricity from the sun, with efficiency yields for a Solar Dish Stirling Engine at 29.4%.  According to the Department of Energy, “enough electric power for the entire country could be generated by covering about 9 percent of Nevada---a plot of land 100 miles on a side---with parabolic trough systems”.  This possibility was eliminated by the Bush Administration, along with thousands of jobs it could create.

Bush has also struck a blow against the livelihood of American farmers.  The Administration has proposed cutting funding for wind projects in 2003 from $23 million to only $18 million.  The Bush plan calls for a total elimination of the plan for 2004.  Many farmers, who had a chance to become profitable for the first time in many years, now face the specter of bankruptcy, from the combination of the severe drought and the cuts in government finding. 

The oil companies get huge incentives from the federal government.  According to Jeremy Rifkin, in his book The Hydrogen Economy, five petroleum companies in the United States had a combined net profit, after taxes, of $40 billion for the year 2000.  Do these companies really need any federal tax breaks to make money?  Let’s take the $533 million allocated for fossil fuel research and put it into renewable energy to produce hydrogen.

The fossil fuels industry is a mature business infrastructure.  American taxes should not continue to be funneled into this wasteful, polluting business.  All of the money should be reallocated to renewable energy programs, which are nonpolluting.  That type of funding could actually make some significant impact in providing hydrogen fueling stations, research on internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and cheaper methods of producing hydrogen from renewable energy.

Hydrogen Now! is a great supporter of fuel cell development, and the promise it holds for the future.  The fuel cell is a wonderful piece of technology that may eventually power most vehicles on the road.  The fuel cell, by itself, however, is not the answer.  It does not produce energy.  It is extremely costly to manufacture.  There is not enough copper in the world to convert all of the world’s existing automobiles to run on fuel cells.  Fuel cells cannot withstand freezing temperatures.  They cost ten times as much as a gasoline vehicle.  All of these issues can be resolved over time.  However, time is of the essence.  The notoriety and promise of fuel cells have overshadowed an option that is available today to replace petroleum-burning vehicles.  The ICE is not the enemy; and the problems caused by burning petroleum products can be eliminated by simply switching the fuel.  The ICE is an alternative to the fuel cell that can run on hydrogen and power our vehicles today, even in the coldest weather.

Hydrogen Now! strongly supports the use of existing hydrogen technology, including immediate development of the hydrogen ICE for automobiles.  Fuel cell vehicles are too far off in the future, whereas ICE vehicles can be produced today, in existing automobile factories, for about the same price as a gasoline-powered automobile.  The most expensive cost addition to a hydrogen car would be the tank.  The focus should be less on fuel cells, and much more on ICE vehicles.  The technology exists and is affordable, today.  BMW has been working on hydrogen ICE vehicles for twenty years.  Ford recently demonstrated its Model U concept car, with an ICE engine that runs on hydrogen.  The near-term focus must be on getting the fueling infrastructure in place to make hydrogen available for hydrogen ICE vehicles.

The federal government should increase funding in the following areas:

Hydrogen ICE vehicles

  • Provide rebates to individuals who buy hydrogen ICE vehicles.

  • Provide rebates for the purchase of home hydrogen fuelers, so that people can fuel their vehicles at home, without being dependent on a huge hydrogen infrastructure to be built.

Hydrogen production

  • Wind energy

  • Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)

  • Research in biological production of hydrogen

  • Reduce cost to produce hydrogen

  • Pyrolysis of organic material to produce hydrogen

  • Anaerobic digestion of biomass

Build the fueling infrastructure

  • Hydrogen pipelines

  • Provide tax incentives and grants for companies installing hydrogen fueling stations.

  • Make it possible for hydrogen to cost less than gasoline to go the same distance.  Add a gasoline tax, if necessary.

Make the government a customer for hydrogen products

  • Convert all federal fleet vehicles to run on hydrogen

  • Install hydrogen fueling stations at all government fleet locations

Using renewable energy to produce hydrogen will create jobs that this country desperately needs.  The government should have a program that uses renewable energy to put us back to work.  Tax cuts for the rich are not going to spur businesses to expand in this time of great economic uncertainty.  Businesses are taking a wait-and-see position before beginning any new expansion.  They are waiting for the economy to recover before they spend any money.  But the economy won’t recover until some money is spent.  The tax cuts will not help the economy.  An aggressive jobs creation program is needed to put America back to work.  It can be done by building the renewable hydrogen economy.

The manufacture, installation and maintenance of hundreds of thousands of wind turbines and solar generator sets can not only produce the energy for making clean, renewable hydrogen, but also provide jobs for millions of unemployed workers.  Such an effort would provide a sustainable boost to the economy that would last many years.

The challenges ahead of us are great, but we are up to them.  Now is the time for the federal government to come forward with the programs and incentives to propel us toward a hydrogen economy.  Let’s not fall behind Europe and Asia in the quest to harness the power of hydrogen.  We truly need an effort on the magnitude of the Apollo space program.  This Administration’s proposal does not even come close to the inspirational declaration by JFK to put a man on the moon.  The country and the world need an equally heroic and visionary program.

For more information contact:  Hydrogen Now! 1-866-GO-H2-NOW
or website: hydrogennow.org, e-mail: [email protected]

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