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DOE to slash fuel cell vehicle research

The Department of Energy budget calls for research on efficiency and renewable energy sources, but cuts funding for hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research.

The Department of Energy's proposed budget boosts research on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources but makes cuts in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles because the technology is many years from being practical.

The DOE published details of its $26.4 billion fiscal 2010 budget request on Thursday, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu held a news briefing to cover the highlights. (Click for a PDF of his presentation.)

"We asked ourselves, 'Is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy?' The answer, we felt, was 'no,'" Chu said in a briefing, according to Energy & Environment Daily.

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Fuel cells have been touted by politicians and people from the industry for many years. The major auto companies have hydrogen fuel cell development programs and lease a limited number of cars to people near the few hydrogen filling stations in the U.S.

But there are many technical challenges to making fuel cell vehicles broadly used, including compact storage, the distribution infrastructure, and the longevity of fuel cells.

The DOE will continue to fund research for stationary fuel cell applications, such as backup power on the power grid or at commercial facilities. Hydrogen can be captured from natural gas or other sources. A fuel cell makes electricity, generating only water vapor as a byproduct--what's considered zero emissions.

The National Hydrogen Association criticized the DOE funding decision, saying that there should be a range of different vehicle technologies.

Another funding area expected to be cut is the $200 million spent on deep-water oil and gas research, which Chu said that industry could fund on its own.

Chu also said that the DOE will seek to create eight "innovation hubs," which would be small research areas designed to attract more scientists into energy, according to a report in The New York Times.

Other proposed areas of investments are: electricity transmission infrastructure, plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles, nuclear energy, and so-called clean coal technologies to make coal power generation less polluting.