Earlier this summer, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
held an afternoon hearing to review the implementation of the Energy
Policy Act on research and development on hydrogen and fuel cells. Testifying
at this July 17 hearing were Under Secretary of Energy David Garman
and four witnesses from private industry.
Describing a hydrogen-based transportation economy as "a very
tantalizing prospect for those who are interested in using less foreign
oil, or less oil of any kind, and who are concerned about clean air,"
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) began the hearing by describing the hundreds
of millions of dollars that corporations are spending on hydrogen fuel
cell research and development.
President Bush has proposed a five-year, $1.2 billion Hydrogen Fuel
Initiative, which includes an FY 2007 request of $289.5 million. Most
of this funding is designated for the Department of Energy's Energy
and Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, with other funding designated
for the Office of Science, the Fossil Energy program, the Nuclear Energy
program, and a relatively small amount for the Department of Transportation.
In his testimony, Under Secretary Garman offered an upbeat review of
DOE's hydrogen program. Garman outlined progress that has been made
since 2003, such as reducing the high volume cost of automotive fuel
cells from $275 per kilowatt in 2002 to $110 in 2005. The lifetime of
the automotive fuel stack has been doubled, small distributed natural
gas reformers have become much more economical, and "superb progress"
has been made "on perhaps our most difficult technical challenge"
of storing enough hydrogen on a vehicle to give it a 300-mile cruising
range. "In sum, we are on track to meet our 2010 and 2015 technical
goals. However, we're not there yet," said Garman. For instance,
the high volume cost of automotive fuel cells must be reduced to $40
per kilowatt to be competitive with the internal combustion engine,
and durability will have to increase from the current 2,000 hours to
5,000 hours to achieve parity with conventional automobiles. Garman
said the Energy Policy Act "will help us tremendously" in
meeting the Initiative's goal of the market introduction of hydrogen
fuel cell vehicles by 2020.
The senators attending this hearing - Alexander, Craig Thomas (R-WY),
Pete Domenici (R-NM), and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) - all expressed considerable
interest in the status of fuel cell R&D. In his comments, Domenici
stated that his FY 2007 Energy and Water Development Appropriations
bill provided the full $289 million request for the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative,
something which he called "a very worthwhile expenditure."
The senators asked about the production of hydrogen through coal gasification,
DOE's support of high risk research, the participation of automotive
suppliers in the administration's Freedom CAR program, coordination
with the FutureGen program, stationary power production, and the role
of federal government procurement in creating markets.
Garman made an important point about what will be required to advance
this technology, saying "I will also tell you that we have been
asked in the past, how could we speed this up? And we've been asked
by folks from the White House to the Congress and elsewhere, and the
answer is we need time . . . more money doesn't necessarily help. There
is a learning process that needs to happen."