2010 DOE Budget Favors Funding Plug-ins/Hybrids Over Fuel Cells

In a rather profound reversal of its previous highly-supportive position, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has announced that funding for at least three hydrogen development programs -- totaling about $100 million -- is being eliminated from the Department of Energy's (DOE) proposed $26.4 billion 2010 budget. Virtually all of the cuts, which cover roughly 60 percent of the $169 billion that had been earmarked for hydrogen fuel-cell related issues in the 2009 budget, will come from the automotive-transportation segment as the DOE moves towards investing in areas that will yield tangible on-road results more quickly. Advanced battery research, expanding/optimizing the electric grid structure and accelerating the pace of hybrid/EV programs are destined to be the primary beneficiaries of this policy shift. Chu justified the Obama administration's revised stance as reflecting its belief that making hydrogen fuel cells and creating a viable hydrogen infrastructure is at least two decades away whereas funding channeled into in these new electric areas can and will produce far more meaningful results in a considerably shorter payback period.

The DOE's change of heart was met with immediate and rather pointed criticism from the U.S. Fuel Cell Council and the National Hydrogen Association. In a joint statement, they noted that: "The cuts proposed in the DOE hydrogen and fuel cell program threaten to disrupt commercialization of a family of technologies that are showing exceptional promise and beginning to gain market traction. Fuel cell vehicles are not a science experiment. These are real vehicles with real marketability and real benefits. Hundreds of fuel cell vehicles have collectively logged millions of miles."

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