February 25, 2006
President Bush has indicated it is imperative to kick America’s oil habit. In conjunction with this goal, the Department of Energy has just announced a $119 million dollar research initiative.
Money for Research and Development
Obviously, automobiles are the basis of America’s oil addiction. Everyone seems to have at least one car if not more. To attack this problem, the current administration is putting a lot of emphasis on hydrogen fuel cell research for vehicles.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are extremely environmentally friendly. They work by converting hydrogen and oxygen into electricity through a chemical process. This process is particularly attractive because it produces no pollutants, is nearly twice as efficient as combustible gas engines and relies on extremely plentiful resources that are not located in foreign lands. There are, however, a few drawbacks to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Hydrogen powered cars are much more expensive than traditional gas powered vehicles. The technology is simply not advanced enough to make production cost effective. The vehicles themselves are also not particularly efficient at this point in time from both a performance and range perspective. The answer to these problems, of course, is research and development.
To spur research on hydrogen fuel cell cars, the Department of Energy has created a Research Roadmap that is designed to identify and set goals for overcoming technical and manufacturing problems related to this new energy platform. At the Washington Auto Show, the agency also indicated it was kicking in $119 million dollars in grants to get the ball rolling.
The Department of Energy is focusing on a few key issues for research. They include improving fuel cell membranes, water movement within the fuel cell, advancing the chemical conversion process and addressing the impact of impurities in the fuel cells on performance and length of service of the automobiles. Each of these subjects has proved to be a barrier to mass production of hydrogen fuel cars.
The ultimate goal of the Department of Energy is to have hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in mass production by 2020. To this end, the $119 million dollar kick start represents a small part of the over 1 billion dollars the agency will devote to research and development on fuel cell automobiles. While 2020 may seem far into the future, at least we are taking steps to move beyond our reliance on foreign energy sources.