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FYI Number 36: March 19, 2004

House Science Committee Reviews Administration's Hydrogen Program

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 report concludes.

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."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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