Sunday, May 10, 2009

Federal R&D for Fuel Cells Dropped

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.



Jason C. said...

I'm glad the new administration will focus their attention to more practical projects that will lead to tangible results sooner instead of decades later. I myself lean towards electric vehicles as a promising alternative to conventional fuel powered vehicles.

Electric vehicles are starting to gain in popularity around the world as technology advances. Tesla Motors is a good example of a company that is successfully incorporating advances in battery and motor design to make electric vehicles more appealing than ever. Check out their website:

Their Model S is pure electric, has range of up to 300 miles, can go 0-60mph in 5.6 sec, and has more cargo space than most sedans. Downside right now is the cost as this least expensive model starts just shy of $50k. However, you can expect the prices to go down over the years as they gain in popularity and similar companies like Tesla Motors get in on the competition. Check out their company website and see what you think of thir technology and the different vehicle models they currently offer.

Windy said...

Although I am not one to support the idea of cutting research in most cases, I am encouraged by this shift in research funding.

For years, hydrogen has been touted as the energy of the future, but we have yet to see any real, cost-effective products stemming from federal R&D dollars.

Some representatives (Democrats and Republicans alike) such as US Rep Brian Baird (D-Washington) have questioned this move, stating that we are, once again, "putting all of our eggs in one technology basket." I agree that focusing too intently on one or two technologies is a poor long-term strategy, however we are at a point in time where we need new energy and transportation options sooner rather than later...much sooner.

So, hopefully this shift in funding towards more reachable goals in the near term will pay off. Perhaps then we can readdress our funding for R&D projects.

TravisR said...

I guess am the odd man out on this as I do not think in the long term batteries will work for all of us and all of our transportation needs. I would rather work continue on fuel cells. If there is scepticism on the future of hydrogen fuel cells, as it seems more of an issue with our ability to manipulate hydrogen, then perhaps they should expand the current research to focus more on some of the non-hydrogen fuel cells and making them higher power.