Hydrogen pushed as new fuel for cars
Banerjee & Danny Hakim New York Times 2002.01.09
The Bush administration is walking away from a $1.5 billion, eight-year
project to develop high-mileage gasoline-fueled vehicles. Instead,
it is throwing its
support behind a plan crafted by the Energy Department and the auto
industry to develop hydrogen-based fuel cells to power the cars
of the future,
administration and industry officials said Tuesday.
The new effort, to be announced in Detroit today by Energy Secretary
Spencer Abraham, is intended to hasten the replacement of the internal
engine. Fuel cells use stored hydrogen and oxygen from the air to
create electricity, and the only emission from engines they power
is water vapor.
Environmentalists and energy experts favor the research. But critics
said the new program, like its predecessor, would let Washington
and Detroit focus on
vague, long-term aims while avoiding the more difficult task of
improving the mileage of cars and sport-utility vehicles in the
short term. Experts say that
commercial production of cars with fuel-cell engines is 10 to 20
With hearings scheduled in the Senate next month on a Democratic
alternative to President Bush's energy program, it has been unclear
how either party would
address fuel-economy standards, which are equally unpopular with
carmakers and organized labor.
Tuesday, an administration official speaking on the condition
of anonymity said the Transportation Department will offer a proposal
later this year on tightening
those standards. But he said because any changes would be years
in the making, the fuel-cell project could make them ``a non-issue.''
Gore supported program
The original program, begun in 1993, aimed to develop affordable
cars that got 80 miles to a gallon of gasoline. Former Vice President
Al Gore, its most vocal
backer in the Clinton administration, likened the project, known
as the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, to the Apollo
space program in its
urgency and technological complexity.
In addition to about $1.5 billion in government subsidies, the
Big Three automakers -- General Motors, Ford Motor and DaimlerChrysler
-- together spent
about $1 billion a year on related technologies.
The carmakers all developed prototype vehicles that got at least
70 miles a gallon, and the project nurtured advances in aerodynamics
and lighter composite
materials used in auto manufacturing.
But none of the Big Three came close to commercial production
of an 80-mile-a-gallon car. Meanwhile, the average fuel economy
of cars and trucks for sale in
the United States has steadily dropped, so that this year's fleet
-- with its growing proportion of sport utility vehicles -- gets
the worst gas mileage in 21 years,
according to the government.
The new program, called Freedom Car, will not require the automakers
to produce a fuel-cell powered vehicle, according to the Energy
experts expressed concern Tuesday that without such clear targets,
it too would do little to alleviate the country's growing dependence
``I think fuel cells are a useful long-term goal,'' said Steven
Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy
Efficient Economy, a research and
advocacy group in Washington. ``But the big problem I have is that
the Bush administration proposal doesn't seem to address anything
for the next 10 years.
There's a lot of technology that can go into cars in 2006 or 2007.''
Appetite for fuel
The new initiative was disclosed on Tuesday in the Detroit News.
The administration said it would not discuss its proposed spending
on the project until Bush's
2003 budget proposal is released in February, but the program it
replaces is to receive $127 million in federal funds this year.
Although gasoline prices are now low, the conflict in Afghanistan
has thrown a spotlight once more on America's enormous appetite
for fuel and has renewed
calls for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The United States,
with only 5 percent of the world's population, consumes 25 percent
of its oil, mostly in the
form of gasoline.
Abraham, in remarks prepared for delivery at the Detroit auto
show, said the new project is ``rooted in President Bush's call,
issued last May in our National
Energy Plan, to reduce American reliance on foreign oil.'' He added,
``The eventual goal of this research are technologies that aim to
solve many of the
problems associated with our nation's reliance on petroleum to power
our cars and trucks.''
While the Clinton administration program focused on developing
high-mileage family sedans -- vehicles that fell out of favor with
consumers as the research
progressed -- Abraham said the new project would give automakers
the flexibility to use the fuel-cell engines in a range of vehicles.
``We should be developing energy-efficient components that can
be adapted for use in several models throughout our fleet,'' he
The stocks of several companies that are developing fuel cells
surged on news of the administration initiative. Shares in Ballard
Power Systems, probably the
best known of these companies, jumped 15 percent to $34.96. FuelCell
Energy rose 22 percent to $21.85; Plug Power was up 39 percent to
close at $12.04.
Automakers and major oil companies have struck alliances with
or invested in the emerging fuel-cell and hydrogen-power industries.
General Motors and
Suzuki Motor announced in October that they would collaborate in
the development of fuel-cell vehicles, and Ford also has been developing
a small fuel-cell
The Big Three automakers are expected to introduce so-called hybrid
vehicles, using diesel-electric engines, by 2004. Toyota and Honda
-- which did not
share in the Clinton-era program's subsidies -- already have hybrids
getting at least 40 miles a gallon -- and their vehicles use gasoline,
environmentalists consider a cleaner fuel than diesel.
The auto industry has steadily resisted government-mandated increases
in fuel economy, with some car makers arguing that such requirements
investment from the Partnership project.
Government standards, unchanged for more than a decade, require
each automaker's cars to average 27.5 miles a gallon and light trucks
-- including pickups,
minivans and sport-utility vehicles -- to average 20.7 miles a gallon.
Kara Saul Rinaldi, the deputy policy director for the Alliance
to Save Energy, a bipartisan research group in Washington, said:
``I welcome this investment. But
we're looking at long-term technology when we haven't made the first
step. Raising fuel-economy standards is the first step.''
*** (source: EREN online news)
"FreedomCAR" Program to Advance Fuel-Cell Vehicles
DOE announced last week a new government-industry program for the
advancement of high-efficiency cars: "freedomCAR". The
new program will focus on fuel cells and hydrogen production from
renewable energy sources. DOE will carry out the freedomCAR program
in partnership with the U.S. Council of Automotive Research -- a
cooperative research organization formed by Ford Motor Company,
General Motors Corporation, and DaimlerChrysler Corporation. In
fact, the "CAR" in "freedomCAR" stands for "Cooperative
FreedomCAR replaces the Clinton-era "Partnership for a New
Generation of Vehicles" (PNGV), which aimed to produce an affordable
sedan that achieves 80 miles per gallon by 2004. In contrast, the
long-term goal for freedomCAR is to develop technologies for hydrogen-
powered fuel cell vehicles that will require no foreign oil and
emit no harmful pollutants or greenhouse gases. An interesting aspect
of freedomCAR is its emphasis on developing a hydrogen supply infrastructure:
many automotive companies are currently developing cars that would
be fueled with low-sulfur gasoline, methanol, or natural gas fuels,
which would be converted to hydrogen using onboard fuel processors.
FreedomCAR looks farther ahead to an energy economy that is built
around hydrogen as the energy carrier.
See the DOE press release, with a link to a fact sheet, at: <http://www.energy.gov/HQPress/releases02/janpr/pr02001.htm>.
So how do you produce hydrogen? Today, most hydrogen is produced
from fossil fuels. It can also be produced by passing a current
through two electrodes immersed in water, but that technique tends
to be expensive. Researchers are now examining ways to make hydrogen
from organic materials, to generate it from organic processes, or
to produce it directly from sunlight and water. Some catalysts help
sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, but researchers
are also using modified solar cells immersed in water, called photoelectrodes.
For more information, see the Hydrogen Information Network on EREN
For those more technically inclined, the proceedings of the 2001
DOE Hydrogen Program Review are posted on the Hydrogen Information