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US makes heavy cuts in fuel cells, hydrogen budget

President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget request for the Department of Energy has cut $100 million from the Fuel Cell Technologies program (formerly Hydrogen Technology), reducing it by nearly 60% compared with the FY 2009 appropriation. The National Hydrogen Association and US Fuel Cell Council were quick to criticize the program cuts, saying in a joint statement that the cuts ‘threaten to disrupt commercialization of a family of technologies that are showing exceptional promise, and beginning to gain market traction.’

Energy Secretary Steven Chu explains the severe reduction – from $169m (plus an additional appropriation of $43.4m) in FY 2009 to just $68.2m in FY 2010 – as ‘cutting spending on programs we don’t need, so we can make strategic investments in our economic future.’

Most of DOE’s R&D, demonstration and deployment activities relating to fuel cells and hydrogen are funded through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. For FY 2010 EERE’s Fuel Cell Technologies program is refocusing on technology-neutral fuel cell systems for diverse applications in the stationary, portable and transportation sectors [budget highlights]. This revision is aligned with DOE’s emphasis on developing a portfolio of technologies with a more near-term impact. The program’s activities will center on technology development for multiple types of fuel cell systems, including PEM, solid oxide and alkaline.

EERE is providing funding for Fuel Cell Systems R&D (up $63.2m) and Systems Analysis (down $2.7m), but funding for all other activities is zero, reflecting their longer-term status. Three activities transferred to the Vehicle Technologies program in FY 2009 (Education, Safety and Codes & Standards, and Technology Validation) are returned to the Fuel Cell Technologies Program in FY 2010, but are not funded.

DOE’s other significant fuel cell funding is through its Fossil Energy Program, which will see a $4m cut, to $54m in FY 2010. The Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) teams will continue to develop systems to support delivery of $400 per kW fuel cell systems, and scale up for MW-scale deployment.

The joint statement from the National Hydrogen Association and the US Fuel Cell Council pointed out the numerous advantages of developing and commercializing fuel cell technologies for transportation and large-scale stationary applications. The associations collectively represent more than 200 companies and organizations.

‘Both the National Academy of Sciences and NHA’s recent Energy Evolution report conclude that a portfolio of vehicle technologies is needed to achieve the nation’s energy and environmental security goals, and that hydrogen is essential to success,’ the statement said. ‘Hydrogen also advances the Obama Administration’s goals of greener power generation and a smarter power grid.’

It continues: ‘Hydrogen production costs are already competitive with gasoline. Projected vehicle costs have been reduced by 75%. These are accomplishments of the Department’s own program in partnership with industry. It would truly be a government waste to squander them by walking away just as success is in sight.’

The associations are also concerned that DOE proposes to cut funds for the SECA program. SECA success ‘could dramatically lower the cost of carbon sequestration, improve power plant efficiency, and enable a virtually pollution-free coal plant in the future,’ they said.

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