Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009 | 2:07 a.m.
Hybrid and all-electric vehicles represent the most fuel-efficient and clean automotive technology for today and for the immediate future. But there is a future beyond that, one that should not be slighted in the nation’s energy policy.
The Obama administration is commendably pushing hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles as part of its overall policy to cut climate-changing emissions, clean the air and reduce America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East.
In its 2010 energy budget, however, the administration is proposing only $68 million, down from $169 million this year, for research into development of a mass-market car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. According to the Associated Press, the administration is wary of investing too much money in automotive technology that may not materialize for decades.
The Senate last week took a different view. It included $190 million in the energy budget for hydrogen research. We support the Senate’s position, which is that hydrogen power represents the potential for fulfilling all of the national automotive policy goals. The Senate also believes that U.S. automakers should not be left behind as automakers in Europe and Asia go full-bore toward hydrogen.
Hydrogen-fueled cars and trucks are on the market but are not yet affordable and do not yet have the desired range. Automotive engineers believe both problems can be solved, provided that research money is not slashed.
The only emission from a car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell is a little harmless steam. Unlike oil, hydrogen is not a finite resource that needs to be imported — it is the most abundant element in the universe.
Another advantage of hydrogen research is the associated knowledge that springs from it. The lighter car bodies that have been developed for hydrogen cars, for example, could have uses in the airline and other industries. Fuel cells themselves, once perfected, would have many wider uses — powering homes, for example.
Research into hydrogen should pay big dividends, as it could become the dominant fuel of the future.