Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
June 10th, 2009

Electric Plug-in AND Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

Regular readers of this column know that I have been a clear and forceful advocate of alternative ways to power transportation.  The internal combustion engine was invented more than a century ago.  We are now entering the decade that will take us toward the new definition of automotive transportation. We are about to define what the car of the 21st century will be. We must, as a country be open to all forms of vehicular power.

More than two years ago I wrote about the electric car.  Since then, in numerous speeches I have said that 2010-2015 will be the beginning of the age of the electric car.  There have been columns about the Aptera and the Tesla as examples of companies already producing electric vehicles that have met with great consumer receptivity.  There is no question that pure plug-in and plug-in hybrids will be front and center in the automotive marketplace of the next decade.  It is important that the U.S. and other countries support the rapid development of this new form of power train vehicles.

Given the crisis situations we find ourselves in relative to the state of the 20th century automotive industry, the issue of global climate change, the soon to be permanently high price of oil and its negative effect on the global economy, it is imperative that we stand open, inquisitive and forceful in exploring all ways to replace this now broken and dangerous landscape.  For too long we have been both blindly ignorant and beholden to special interests who have kept the US from increasing fuel efficiencies and investing in the essential technologies of the 21st century.

A few months ago I spoke at the National Hydrogen Association’s annual conference.  As I wrote here, I learned much a lot about the current state of hydrogen in the marketplace.  I also wrote about the sublime experience of driving several hydrogen fuel cell cars. I came away from this learning experience absolutely convinced that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can and should be as much a part of the 21st century automotive business as electric vehicles.

When the Big 3 flew their corporate jets to Washington last fall, I suggested that if the Federal Government wanted to bail out the 20th century automotive industry, they should invest a similar amount of money in the 21st century automotive industry.  Help from the federal government will speed up the essential need to wean ourselves from fossil fuel combustion.  As the government helped to fund the development of hydro electric power in the 1930s and launched the development of the interstate highway system in the 1950s and 1960s, so now it must invest in both battery technology and hydrogen fuel cell technology and the essential infrastructures to allow them to quickly grow to scale in the U.S.

I was therefore greatly enthused about the new commitment the Obama administration has made to alternative energy, green technology, a new 21st century energy grid and the support of R&D for battery technology.  However, I recently learned that the administration and the Department of Energy, while planning on investing $2 billion for battery manufacturing and $400 for transportation electrification, had actually cut $143 million from the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Program and completely eliminated the federal hydrogen vehicle program!  I was and am absolutely dumbfounded by this.

I know the Obama administration has the right intention when it comes to alternative energy and freeing this country from dependence on imported oil.  They are absolutely right about support for the investment in battery technology and electric transportation. However, solving the energy and transportation crisis we are in entails the support of all promising and proven ways known to achieve our goals.  I do not want to think that the Obama administration has allowed their energy vision to be corrupted by any special interests from the electricity sector of the economy.  It must therefore be an oversight, a mistake or a case of having a major blind spot.

To put this funding cut in perspective, let me suggest what that the proposed spending cut could do if restored to the budget.  $143 million is enough to put a hydrogen station within 10 miles for every resident of the Los Angeles metro area and every 25 miles along the highways from LA to San Diego, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara and Las Vegas–convenient fueling for 15 million people in one year.  Los Angeles already has the beginning of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure and Honda has a number of leased hydrogen fuel cell cars on the road there.  For the amount of money GM burns through in less than a day, we could have the largest car market in the US ready for conversion to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  This in turn would prompt car manufacturers to start to ramp up production.

I will write on the bright future the US can have with both hydrogen fuel cell cars and electric plug-ins in my next column.  However I am so concerned that the bright future of hydrogen fuel cell cars is at critical risk due to the stunning oversight of the Obama energy plan that I called the National Hydrogen Association and asked them what can be done.  Evidently they have set up a link to connect to Congress.  Here it is: http://capwiz.com/fuelcells/home/ .  I rarely suggest readers taking action on anything.  However I am a futurist and just cannot let what must be an oversight that could cripple one of the ways to change US vehicular transportation slip by without intelligent discussion.  I am now going to let the elected officials that represent me know that they must not cut, but increase spending for the hydrogen fuel cell industry. I hope you do the same. To not do so continues the blind, mindless stupidity of our recent governmental inactivity in the area of transportation fueled by alternative energies.

Next week, a clear vision of how we can, by 2020 dramatically change what transportation in the US can be.

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In times of global uncertainty and disruption it takes a futurist to provide context and understanding.

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