Stemming from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) February 2013 announcement that there will be a new investment to decrease hydrogen’s costliness as a fuel, rumblings have began to emerge that a renewed hydrogen promotion campaign, tentatively called H2USA, may be on the horizon.

The original program, started by former President George W. Bush’s administration, would continue to encourage fuel cell vehicles to become more widely available. The program, called FreedomCar coalition, had an investment of $1.7 billion. In 2009, DOE Secretary Steven Chu proposed cutting the hydrogen funding by $100 million due to the impractical costs of development of the fuel cells and infrastructure. At the time, Secretary Chu surmised that hydrogen vehicles were still 10 to 20 years away from being a viable alternative to gasoline vehicles. He later amended this statement by saying that it was an “important technology.”

Now, in 2013, with Secretary Chu leaving and a new DOE Secretary nominated, President Barack Obama’s administration has begun to show interest in hydrogen as an alternative fuel. The H2USA program would partner the DOE with hydrogen automakers and suppliers, as well as with other interested parties, to create more supply materials; in turn, this would drive down costs. Right now, fuel cell technology is high-priced and would be out of most consumers’ range. By injecting money into the hydrogen marketplace, however, the technology would become cheaper through advancements in development. History has revealed that this is true with data that shows that in 2002, a fuel cell system used in transportation cost $275/kW, compared to just $47/kW a decade later. That is an 80% reduction in costs.

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A Toyota fuel cell hydrogen vehicle fills up at an Air Products hydrogen fueling station. There are currently 20 hydrogen fuel stations open to the public in the U.S. Credit: NAFTC.

There is also a need to provide hydrogen-fueling infrastructure. Currently in the U.S., there are approximately 20 hydrogen stations that are open to the public, and in total, there are between 50 and 100 stations across the country. The U.S. also has 1,200 miles of hydrogen pipeline that is currently being used by California, Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, and Indiana and produces over nine million metric tons per year of hydrogen.

Other good news in hydrogen fuel development includes the fact that researchers from a Colorado DOE lab released the findings of a seven-year fuel cell vehicle development project. They found that the durability and miles driven before replacement of fuel cells has improved since 2004. The project cost $350 million with some funds being supplied by automakers.

The importance of encouraging fuel cell vehicle development stems from the Obama Administration’s goal to produce one million advanced vehicles by 2015 and to decrease oil imports by one-third by 2025.




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