Betting on Hydrogen Early is Betting Blind

Editorial critical of focus on hydrogen development in California

Published: 21-Jan-2004

lign=justify>Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recently unveiled budget portends enormous shortfalls in transportation funding for the Southland in years to come. However, of the funds that are present, too many millions are being misdirected into ill-advised plans to create a network of hydrogen stations across the state.

The region is facing loss of more than $3.4 billion in funding over the next six years, with the negative effects reaching far beyond just the actual cuts.

Granted, in our current budget crisis, money has to be cut somewhere and many regions and departments are going to be squeezed for funds. Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of the remaining transportation funds are being spent on an ill-advised network of hydrogen stations.

Fuel cell technology and the prospect of hydrogen as a primary fuel, replacing gasoline, are tempting visions. Proponents argue that hydrogen fuel would reduce dependence on foreign oil supplies and cut smog-forming emissions. When used in a fuel cell, hydrogen produces only water.

However, the costs of vehicles powered by such fuel cells still run into seven figures. Moreover, the process of refining hydrogen into usable form does not exist, even in some nascent form. Engineers and designers still have to overcome major challenges in transporting the fuel as well.

While hydrogen may well be the fuel of the future, it is a distant future that is powered in large part by hydrogen. The governor's plan, which centers on building a network of hydrogen stations, is premised on a "build it and they will come" thesis. The technology, though, isn't ready for the highway and won't be in the forseeable future.

Rather than investing in an infrastructure that will not be needed for more than a decade, the governor should focus on promoting extant alternatives. Better public transportation, subsidized promotion of hybrid vehicles and stricter regulation of particulate pollution would decrease smog and our dependence on foreign oil.

Betting on hydrogen this early is betting blindly.

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