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Death of the Hydrogen Economy

Obama’s budget puts hydrogen fuel-cell research out of its misery–almost.

A government program to help develop hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered vehicles–a hallmark of the Bush administration–has been almost completely wiped out in the Obama administration’s proposed budget.

In 2008, hydrogen technology research and development at the Department of Energy got over $200 million. That’s been scaled down to about $70 million in the current budget, and that’s for fuel cells of all sorts–including generating electricity for the grid, and not just hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles.

Major automakers have also recently scaled back their hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle development, emphasizing hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles instead.

Hydrogen fuel cells don’t emit pollutants–just water. And the amount of hydrogen that can be stored, by weight, is tremendous. But fuel cells are expensive, hydrogen is hard to come by (there aren’t many hydrogen filling stations), and it’s difficult to store in a small volume. What’s more, the cleanest way to make hydrogen–electrolysis using electricity from renewable sources–is expensive and inefficient.

What do you think? Is it about time we abandon hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles? Or do they still have a place in future transportation?

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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