Government Funding for Hydrogen Fuel Cells Program Reinstated

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Just this morning, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water approved $190 million for the hydrogen and fuel cell program office which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This action, in effect, restores the program to current year funding levels. Earlier this year, the administration demonstrated its lack of support for the future of hydrogen by pulling programs for hydrogen and fuel cell development. In addition, another $54 million was approved for the SECA program. The full appropriations committee meets tomorrow. This funding is for 2010.

“Congress recognized and embraced the role hydrogen fuels cells and their fuels play in the portfolio of energy technologies for the 21st century,” said Bob Rose, Executive Director for the U.S. Fuel Cell Council. “We hope that the Secretary of Energy (Steven Chu) and his staff embrace this as a spirit of goodwill.”

The Council has been working with both the Department of Energy and its subcommittees to reinstate support for the hydrogen fuel cell program which was literally stopped dead in its tracks in 2009. Rose noted that this is a great opportunity to re-evaluate the current programs and make changes.

According to Senator Byron L. Dorgan, (D-N.D.) and Chairman for the committee, “The Energy and Water Appropriations bill makes investments in our nation’s efforts to develop safe, homegrown energy sources that will reduce our reliance on foreign oil. To enhance our nation’s energy security, we’ve made short-term, mid-range, and long-term investments in building efficiency, vehicle technologies, wind, and solar energy programs. And, because ongoing research and development is necessary to develop game-changing technologies, this bill also restores funding for Hydrogen energy research.”

The refunding of the hydrogen and fuel cell program is part of a larger appropriations bill passed today by the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. They passed a $27.4 billion appropriations bill for energy and security programs. The intent is to boost funding for hydrogen, environmental clean-up programs and fossil-fuel programs. The measure to re-introduce funding for hydrogen programs is a direct break from the administration’s current energy direction.

Dorgan was quoted in an E&E article today saying, “Most of what we do is not spending … it’s investing in the future. Vehicles that run on hydrogen fuel cells will be important in the future and “abandoning” DOE’s 189 hydrogen projects “does not serve our interest well,” he said. The House committee bill also reinstated funding for the hydrogen program.

While we slowly wean ourselves from fossil fuels, the bill actually funds fossil-fuel development programs such as carbon capture and storage programs (note if the Climate Bill passes, this will be the first cap-and-trade legislation passed, just in time for the Copenhagen Climate talks in December) and emission reduction programs. Hmmm…are they supporting research for clean coal?

There are still several hurdles to clear before the funding for the hydrogen programs are “officially” approved. Last night, the full House Appropriations Committee met to review the proposed 2010 budget that was passed by their Energy and Water Development Subcommittee on June 25th. This budget contains similar funding numbers for hydrogen transportation systems ($40 million) as does the senate version but has a total number of $108 million Rose told me, versus the $190 million set aside in the senate version.

Once the full senate committee passes their version, the house and senate will need to negotiate any differences in funding numbers. Rose said that the final numbers will end up somewhere between $108 to $190 million and hopes that they are closer to the higher number rather than the smaller number. He doesn’t expect to hear any final numbers until after the August recess.

There is still a long-way to go to finalize the details for the hydrogen fuel cell program (and other hydrogen programs. “We’re in the third inning, ” explained Rose. “There will be complex decision making and complex discussions before the program moves forward.”

 

Joanna Schroeder

Joanna is a writer and consultant specializing in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture issues.