On Thursday, the US secretary of energy, Stephen Chu, announced that the Obama administration will cut off funding for R&D into vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells in favor of more practical projects that can be implemented more quickly. Dr. Chu, a Nobel prize winning physicist and former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said hydrogen fuel cells face big challenges related to the their development as well as the transport of hydrogen.
Former President George W. Bush hailed hydrogen fuel cells as a “pollution-free solution for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil” and went so far as to predict that children born today will be driving hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The Obama administration, however, is focusing on different research areas by establishing eight “energy innovation hubs” (coined as “Bell labletts”). The labs will focus on basic research and will be funded for five years in hopes of luring top scientists to develop practical solutions to the nation’s current and future energy needs.
Dr. Webber has talked a lot about the need for more R&D, from both industry and government. While the energy department’s budget has only been increased by less than 1% (not counting stimulus money), I am hopeful that the Obama administration’s focus and restructuring will make this R&D money more effective. I am also hopeful that Dr. Chu’s experience as chairman of Standford’s physics department, head of Bell Labs’ electronics research lab, and director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will bring more science and academia into our energy policy.