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Fuel cell vehicle research funding to be restored?

Congress ignoring the Department of Energy's request to cut fuel cell vehicle research, despite formidable technical and infrastructure barriers.

Congress is seeking to maintain funding for fuel cell vehicle research, rebuffing the Department of Energy's proposal to cut $100 million in funding.

The Appropriations committees from the House and Senate earlier this month published budgets that have significant sums devoted to hydrogen research and specifically for fuel cell vehicles.

The House plan calls for $40 million in research through the Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies program and the Senate plan would provide $190 million to various hydrogen technologies, according to Environment & Energy Daily. (Click for PDFs of House appropriations and Senate appropriations.)

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In May the Department of Energy proposed slashing fuel cell vehicle research by about 60 percent, which would have been a cut of about $100 million. At the time, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that after years of research, hydrogen-fueled cars were still years away from commercial viability.

"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 May.

That proposal was criticized by hydrogen industry trade groups, arguing that fuel cells have a role among other power train technologies.

All the major automakers have fuel cell vehicle programs with small numbers of cars leased to consumers for testing. Although these cars are available, they can only be fueled in the few locations that have hydrogen filling stations.

In addition to the lack of distribution infrastructure, storage of hydrogen remains a technical challenge. Hydrogen also has to be produced from other sources, such as natural gas.

The House Energy and Water appropriations, which includes Energy Department funding for 2010, passed on Friday with $45 million for "hydrogen vehicle technologies" added to the $40 million the appropriations committee had originally called for, according to the National Hydrogen Association.

Robert Rose, executive director of the United States Fuel Cell Council, told The New York Times that he hopes a vote on the Senate appropriations bill comes before the August recess.