The Future is Nearer than Some Think

Hydrogen Fuel Cells are a cost effective way to power fork lifts in this Cass Township PA warehouse.
Allar said he negotiated a substantially lower monthly service fee for the trucks, supplied by Lift Inc., of Lancaster. Using fuel cells also eliminated the need for an outside maintenance person to change the heavy batteries, clean them, and charge them. The cost of the hydrogen – estimated at $4 to $5 per kilogram by an industry analyst – is more than electricity, but not by much, Allar said. The comparison was helped by a 30 percent increase in electricity prices this year, when rate caps expired, Allar said. Wegmans, which employs more than 350 at the distribution center, also received subsidies: a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority toward the fueling system provided by Air Products & Chemicals Inc. and a 50 percent cost-share from the U.S. Department of Energy for the first 130 fuel cells it buys. Like many other forms of alternative energy, hydrogen fuel cells, which create electricity through a chemical reaction, have long received government support. The latest big push came when George W. Bush in his 2003 State of the Union Address committed $1.2 billion over five years to speed research into hydrogen fuel cells. But last year, the Obama administration tried to cut spending on hydrogen fuel cells to $68 million in fiscal 2010 from about $200 million in fiscal 2009 after deciding that they would not provide a practical solution any time soon. Congress restored much of the money. David Friedman, research director for clean vehicles at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said treatment of fuel cells showed the chronic weakness of federal energy policy. It has been a combination of “support for cheap fossil fuels and the silver-bullet philosophy,” which involves “jumping from technology to technology, and when it doesn’t save the world in five years, they call it a failure and move on,” Friedman said. Despite the hot-and-cold treatment by the White House, “fuel cells have made huge improvements over the last five years,” Friedman said. The Energy Department recently estimated the manufacturing cost of a fuel cell at $45 per kilowatt, less than half the cost four years ago. Niche markets, such as forklifts, are necessary and important to the advancement of fuel cells, because they can help bring the cost down, but they are “not going to be enough” to be a wedge that opens up bigger markets, such as cars, Friedman said.
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2 thoughts on “The Future is Nearer than Some Think”

  1. Tom Carper has always been a big proponent of fuel cells. I have never voted for the guy.

  2. Fuel cells can work for cars, too. I believe some delivery and utility companies are using them in localized areas in the U.S., and they are used in Europe. Of course, for mass-use, an infrastructure needs to be established; hydrogen stations. In Europe, the hydrogen is ‘manufactured’ at the station itself.

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