Bush Touts Hydrogen, Pushes for Energy Bill

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, May 26, 2005 (ENS) - Hydrogen is "the wave of the future," President George W. Bush said Wednesday during a visit to a hydrogen fueling station in Washington, D.C.

The clean fuel offers the United States a road away from its increasing dependence on foreign oil, said Bush, who again called on Congress to pass a comprehensive energy bill.

"Congress has been talking too long about the energy bill," Bush said. "I'm getting a little tired of waiting for the sake of energy independence, they've got to get me a bill."

The energy bill has repeatedly stalled in the U.S. Senate because of concerns about the cost of the legislation, as well as over provisions to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to grant manufacturers of the fuel additive MTBE protection from litigation.

The House passed an $8.6 billion version of the legislation last month, including both the Arctic drilling language and the MTBE liability waiver.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to finishing marking up the energy bill Thursday.

The legislation includes support for the presidents' $1.2 billion hydrogen initiative, which aims to make it practical and cost effective for U.S. consumers to use hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles by 2020. Bush

The president gets a tutorial on fueling a hydrogen-powered car by Shell's Rick Scott. (Photo by Paul Morse courtesy White House)
The hydrogen pump tested by Bush is the first installed at a retail gas station in North America. It was installed last November by Shell and General Motors to provide a venue for demonstrations to federal lawmakers and officials.

Hydrogen fuel cells have long been touted as the next great energy revolution. Combining oxygen and hydrogen can produce electricity - the only byproducts are water and heat.

But there is little existing capacity for hydrogen production, which remains expensive, and fuel cell technologies still face challenges of storage, cost, reliability and safety.

And the most significant hurdle could be the high cost and logistical complexity of distributing hydrogen to fueling stations across the nation.

"This is the beginning of some fantastic technology [but] it won't happen overnight," Bush said. "It is going to take a fair amount of research and development to make sure hydrogen is attractive and reasonable - is able to be manufactured at reasonable price, distributed in a wide way for consumer satisfaction."

"No one thinks this technology is going to overwhelm our society in the immediate term," the president said.

Current hydrogen fuel costs are about twice the cost of premium gasoline but is about twice as energy efficient and far less polluting.

The president, who has suffered recently in the polls in part because of high gasoline prices and energy security concerns, said hydrogen offers "one way to diversify" away from oil.

"The key is that we are now putting things in place today, making investments today, encouraging development of alternative sources of energy today, that will help transform our energy mix for tomorrow," Bush said.

But there is doubt that the president's plan is aggressive enough to curb the nation's increasing thirst for foreign oil.

The United States consumes some 20 million barrels a day - one quarter of global consumption - and imports 65 percent of that total.

A report released last year by the National Research Council cautioned that even under the best case scenario the Bush hydrogen plan would do little to cut oil imports or greenhouse gas emissions during the next 25 years. Bush

The Shell station is used to fuel six demonstration vehicles and to inform policymakers about hydrogen. (Photo by Paul Morse courtesy White House)
Environmental groups are supportive of the Bush hydrogen plan, but skeptical of the administration's intent.

Raising fuel economy standards could have a rapid impact on oil consumption, critics say, and the Bush plan could undermine the environmental friendliness of hydrogen by relying coal, natural gas and nuclear power to produce hydrogen.

As a sign of support for Bush's hydrogen plan, the U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday disbursed $64 million for hydrogen research and development projects.

The administration also announced a partnership between the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture to support efforts to turn biomass into hydrogen.

Other U.S. leaders are pushing for a hydrogen future - California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger plans today to unveil a 5-year, $54 million plan to build a network of some 100 hydrogen-fueling stations. The plan calls for matching funds and state grants to spark the construction of the fueling stations.