Energy Secretary Sees Glowing Future For Hydrogen-fed Car

Abraham sees hydrogen creating competitive energy market.

Published: 22-Feb-2003

OYE FALLS, N.Y. -- A generation from now, price spikes at the pump could be a historical footnote if hydrogen becomes the principal energy carrier for powering motor vehicles, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said Friday.

"It's the most plentifully available commodity in the planet," Abraham said. "We won't be as dependent on the decision-making of foreign energy producers as to what they think the price ought to be."

Abraham toured a General Motors Corp. research plant in upstate New York where hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles are being developed.

Last spring, in this village 15 miles south of Rochester, the automaker unveiled a modified Chevrolet pickup that it called the world's first drivable fuel-cell vehicle. Mass-produced, affordable fuel-cell vehicles, however, are not expected to be available for a decade or two.

Because hydrogen can be produced via an abundance of resources _ petroleum, natural gas, nuclear power, renewable energy like solar, wind and water _ "we can create the competitive market for its production but also we'll have a very positive impact on price," Abraham said.

"I think the long-term opportunities it presents are incredibly positive," he said.

Hydrogen at the pump would be less prone to price swings "because you're not dependent on one source _ anything that makes electricity can make hydrogen," echoed Byron McCormick, executive director responsible for GM's fuel-cell activities.

"If somebody decides they're going to push up petroleum prices, you've got the option of using, let's say, more hydroelectric power, coal, natural gas," he said. "The second prices start to get out of whack, other sources become available and consequently you get a balance."

The GM pickup was equipped with a fuel processor that uses a series of chemical reactions to break down low sulfur gasoline to be used by the fuel cell.

Gasoline-fed fuel cells are viewed as a transitional technology as automakers work on fuel cell vehicles that will run on pure hydrogen, whose only tailpipe emission is harmless water vapor. Fuel cells using gasoline or other fuels are not pollution-free.

All the major automakers are working on some sort of fuel cell vehicle and will begin making some available in limited volumes this year.

In January 2002, Abraham announced a partnership between the federal government and the U.S. automakers to help accelerate the development of hydrogen-fed fuel cell vehicles and a hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

In his Feb. 6 State of the Union address, President Bush said he considered his $1.5 billion hydrogen development plan a legacy for future generations and key to the nation's energy security.

Bush wants to double federal research money to develop hydrogen, map out a fuel distribution system and help auto companies overcome some of the remaining barriers to making affordable cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.



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