Amid automotive and bank bailouts, and massive government investment in research, one group that would seemingly be getting a healthy dose of government grants and loans has instead seen its lifeline evaporate. The hydrogen industry's $1.2B USD boost, proposed by President Bush, has been partially axed by President Barack Obama as part of several billion dollars in budget cuts.
The primary reason for forsaking the hydrogen industry, according to Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, is that it’s not close enough to being marketable. Department spokesperson Tom Welch states, "The probability of deploying hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the next 10 to 20 years is low."
Mr. Welch comments that despite advances, hydrogen production, storage, and transport remain tremendous obstacles. Furthermore, he says the money needed to finance the infrastructure necessary to fuel hydrogen fuel cell vehicles -- hydrogen pipelines and refueling stations -- would be prohibitively expensive.
The cuts will reduce the $169M USD per year in funding of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies down to $68.2M USD, saving the U.S. taxpayer $100.8M USD. The cuts will virtually eliminate the automotive fuel cell research grants. The remaining funding will be used to investigate non-automotive fuel cell uses.
The funding was first proposed by President Bush during his 2003 State of the Union address. He stated, during the address, "With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free."
President Bush backed up his rhetoric by spending over $500M USD on government-funded research into transporting, distributing and storing hydrogen fuel. Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, had criticized the plan at the time for being too little to truly help. He stated, "This was window-dressing pure and simple."
Now Mr. Clapp and others are left to rethink this attitude as they remember back on the progress the industry has made over the last several years and ponder what future it might hold, without government funding and support. With auto companies worldwide in dire financial straits, and lacking the ability to spend large amounts of money on future technology research, it seems that the field of automotive hydrogen fuel cells, for the time being, is going to be greatly diminished.