Well, that didn’t last long. The honeymoon that new Secretary of Energy Steven Chu enjoyed has ended, at least among hydrogen energy researchers and advocates. With the announcement that funding for the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle program has been eliminated in DOE’s 2009-10 budget request, Chu caused consternation, even anger, in the hydrogen world.
Chu explained his choice by saying that when he asked the question of whether or not hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would contribute to our economy in 10 to 15 or even 20 years, the answer he felt, was “no.” Instead, Chu wants to focus funding on plug-in hybrids and battery technology.
Reaction was quick to come. During a Senate hearing, long- time hydrogen supporter Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) vowed to block the cut, saying that he was “stunned” that Chu was zeroing out hydrogen programs. Dorgan told Chu that, “We are going to do everything we can to continue the programs.”
Car companies also responded. Honda, Toyota, and GM, all of whom have strong, self-funded fuel cell vehicle programs, announced that they would continue their development. At the recent National Hydrogen Association meeting, I had the experience of driving Honda’s latest fuel cell car, the Clarity. In my opinion, it’s the best car ever built–powerful, quiet, very efficient, and good looking. I think people will line up to buy cars like the Clarity, once the infrastructure is in place and the price comes down.
Chu is right that developing plug-in hybrids and electric cars is a good idea. But eliminating funding for fuel cell vehicles is wrongheaded. My colleague Joan Ogden said it well, “There are uncertainties with both these technologies (batteries and fuel cells), so taking one off the table seems shortsighted.”
While the fur flies in Washington, we continue working hard. In our lead article, Colin Sheppard describes the exciting RESCO project that will begin shortly. We’ll be developing a renewable energy action plan for Humboldt County. James Apple provides an update on the biomass gasification project. And summer interns Garren Sparks and Matt Bray describe their work to provide solar power to a BLM cabin in the remote King Range along California’s Lost Coast.
Best wishes to all for an enjoyable summer. I hope you capture some solar energy during those long summer days.