Fuel cell industry needs government backing

TIAX, a fuel cell research and development firm, said the United States government must make a "substantial financial investment" in the fuel cell industry if the technology is to gain wider use by both motorists and commercial vehicle fleets. "While using hydrogen as a vehicle fuel has long been a topic of visionary discussions, it is clear that we will not see a hydrogen economy in the short term

TIAX, a fuel cell research and development firm, said the United States government must make a "substantial financial investment" in the fuel cell industry if the technology is to gain wider use by both motorists and commercial vehicle fleets.

"While using hydrogen as a vehicle fuel has long been a topic of visionary discussions, it is clear that we will not see a hydrogen economy in the short term without the active leadership of the U.S. government," TIAX director Johannes Thijssen said. "Government has the power, the resources and the reach to spur industry into action and make the transition to hydrogen a reality."

He noted that there are several challenges the fuel cell industry must overcome to establish the technology in the motor vehicle market. Besides the initial cost to build hydrogen-fueling stations, Thijssen said ownership costs for fuel cell vehicles are expected to be $1,000-$2,000 higher per year than that of both conventional and advanced diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles, even with projected advances in fuel cell technology.

Another factor raising the cost is the high price and limited availability of platinum, which is necessary for fuel cell production.

Cambridge, MA-based TIAX said for the first 30 to 40 years of a hydrogen fuel-based economy, platinum would be a major issue. Still, Thijssen said the economic benefits from lower fuel consumption could be substantial and outweigh the platinum issue.

Hydrogen-fueled fuel cell vehicles could result in well-to-tank energy savings of 50% versus conventional diesel and gasoline vehicles, he noted.

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