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California Big on Hydrogen; State Captures $50M of DOE Fuel Cell Funding

May 03, 2004

He may be more traditionally associated with gas-guzzling Humvees than anything remotely environmental, but Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger has become a big believer in alternative energy vehicles. The governor's recent call for creating a "Hydrogen Highway" by 2010 is, perhaps, the country's boldest commitment to getting hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on America's roadways anytime soon. It provides an example of how public-private partnerships, with the government serving as an early adopter of a potentially disruptive technology, could produce positive economic results for the state.

The goal of the California Hydrogen Highway Network initiative is to catalyze a rapid transition to a clean hydrogen transportation economy through strategic placement of fueling stations and public investment in fuel cell vehicles, primarily businesses and light duty vehicles. An early network of 150-200 hydrogen-fueling stations throughout the state (approximately one station for every 20 miles on the state's major highways) would make hydrogen fuel available to the vast majority of Californians, the California Fuel Cell Partnership suggests. The Partnership and others estimate that this initial low-volume fueling network would cost approximately $90 million, the majority of the investment coming from private investment by energy companies, auto makers, high-tech firms, and other companies.

The governor's Earth Day highway announcement presciently foreshadowed news that California institutions and companies collectively captured up to $50 million of a total of $350 million for hydrogen fuel cell research projects awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on April 27. The private sector is expected to provide an additional $225 million in matching funds for the research.

The DOE funds are distributed among several different hydrogen-related initiatives:

  • National Hydrogen Storage Project: Centers of Excellence will be created for exploratory research in hydrogen storage. Each center, to include a DOE national laboratory lead and several university and industry partners, will address the major technical barrier to on-board hydrogen storage - storing enough hydrogen to enable greater than 300-mile driving range without impacting cargo or passenger space. In addition, individual universities, research institutes, and small businesses will explore new materials for hydrogen storage. The DOE share is $150 million over five years with an additional private cost-share of approximately $20 million.
  • Vehicle and Infrastructure Learning Demonstrations: “Learning demonstrations” will involve auto makers and energy companies working together to demonstrate integrated and complete system solutions operating in real world environments. These demonstrations will assess the research program’s progress toward meeting the goal of making a commercialization decision by 2015. The projected DOE share is $190 million over five years with an additional private cost-share of approximately $190 million.
  • Fuel Cell Research Projects: These projects will address critical fuel cell cost and durability issues for consumer electronics and other applications. The DOE share is $13 million dollars over three years with an additional private cost-share of approximately $10 million.
  • Hydrogen Technology Education Projects: These projects pair hydrogen technology experts with professional educators and experienced curriculum developers to create hands-on activities and lessons to engage students in the developing hydrogen economy. The hydrogen education projects also include the development of materials suitable for a general audience. These materials will help introduce the public to the hydrogen vision, as well as provide a better understanding of how fuel cells work; how hydrogen is produced, delivered, and stored; and the facts about hydrogen safety.

A complete list of DOE award selections is available at: http://www.doe.gov/engine/content.do?PUBLIC_ID=15725&BT_CODE=PR_PRESSRELEASES&TT_CODE=PRESSRELEASE