Recommendations made in a report issued by the American Physical Society
about the Bush Administration's Hydrogen Initiative were favorably
received by the chairman of the House Science Committee at a recent
hearing. "Given the large performance gaps, basic science is critical
to the ultimate success of the Hydrogen Initiative," the 15-page
Hydrogen is receiving much attention in Washington. Last year, President
Bush briefly outlined a new Hydrogen Fuel Initiative in his State of
the Union address. The Hydrogen Initiatives budget has grown quickly,
from $180 million in 2003 to a requested $319 million in the next fiscal
year as calculated by the Science Committee. Almost all of the funding
for this year's program, according to the APS, is in the Department
of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget, with much
smaller sums going to research supported by the Office of Science.
While the Office of Science would receive more money in FY 2005 under
the Administration's request, the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
budget would receive most of the funding.
In opening the March 3 hearing, Science Committee Chairman Sherwood
Boehlert (R-NY) stated, "Clearly this is a valuable program that
could be better focused, with greater emphasis on solving fundamental
questions." Boehlert's remarks reflect one of the APS report's
major recommendations. Cautioning that the failed mid-1970s Synthetic
Fuels program was rushed too quickly into demonstration projects, the
APS report warned against following a similar path for the Hydrogen
Initiative. The chair of the panel was Peter Eisenberger of Columbia
University. The report may be accessed at http://www.aps.org/public_affairs/index.cfm
The APS report is a distillation of previous reports on hydrogen.
Challenging problems with hydrogen production, use, and storage were
described. The report concludes: "Given the enormous performance
gaps, the strategy of devoting too large a share of the program to
demonstrations of the automotive application is problematic. To insure
the ultimate success of the Hydrogen Initiative, indeed for any new
technology, it is critical that resources are properly allocated between
demonstration projects and research & development."
David Garman, Energy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and
Renewable Energy, was the Administration's witness. He testified that
a new report by a National Academy of Sciences committee (see http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10922.html ),
chaired by Michael Ramage, (who also testified at this hearing) "validates" the
Administration's approach. In answer to questions by Boehlert and several
of his colleagues, Garman said that under his program, only small,
incremental, limited-learning moves would be made and that it would
be a "horrible mistake" to rush the hydrogen program. Garman
also explained that more money was requested for research by the Office
of Science in the next fiscal year.
Science Committee members and the three witnesses seemed to be on
the same page as the hearing concluded. The chairman lauded Garman,
Boehlert saying of the hydrogen program that he "feels it is in
good hands; the good hands should know we are watching."