September 20, 2006

Hydrogen Can Fuel Cars, Economy

By: by Democrat and Chronicle Editorial


(September 17, 2006) — Fuel cells, like those being worked on in Honeoye Falls and Henrietta, have powered spacecraft to the moon. More importantly for the Rochester economy, they may revolutionize transportation here on Earth.

As the home to the largest fuel cell research centers for both General Motors and Delphi, the Rochester area has an advantage. But, with regions across the country competing to profit from this technology, our leaders must become more aggressive.

They must capitalize on and enhance fuel cell research happening in business and at universities. They must push federal and state governments to provide more resources.

The goal is to speed the day when hydrogen-fueled electric cars crowd the highways. This region, if it moves now, could play a key role in this epochal transformation.

It's important that hydrogen filling stations be in place by the time fuel cell cars are ready to get on the road. Already research for cars powered by fuel cells, which harness the electricity that is created when hydrogen and oxygen are combined during a chemical reaction, is moving quickly. It's far more advanced than research for the hydrogen filling stations.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wisely is working on a public-private partnership with power companies, universities and other entities to design a Hydrogen Highway with hydrogen fueling stations in California to be up and running by 2010. State officials and energy companies in New York ought to follow his lead.

The federal government should also continue to ramp up its investment in fuel cell technology research and development. Sen. Hillary Clinton has successfully steered federal defense dollars to GM's Honeoye Falls facility, to create the U.S. Army's first hydrogen-powered vehicle.

Given that it can cost the Army up to $400 a gallon to ship gas to Iraq and Afghanistan, devoting more resources to the development of alternative power systems clearly makes sense.

Clinton, and other members of the region's congressional delegation, should also get behind a plan to create a "Hydrogen Village'' at High Falls in downtown Rochester. The village would showcase fuel cell and other alternative energy research being done in this region.

Under this proposal, which is being pushed by Greater Rochester Enterprise, water power from High Falls would provide the hydrogen for fuel cells to run experimental vehicles and even buildings.

GM fuel cell chief engineer Matthew Fronk is convinced that the project would be invaluable in helping scientists work out some of the kinks in the application of fuel cell technology. Such an innovative demonstration of energy independence could attract national attention. The New York Fuel Cell network, a consortium of groups that includes GRE, GM and Delphi, seems an ideal organization to take the lead in devising a technical plan for the Hydrogen Village.

The Rochester region has an edge in helping make hydrogen-powered fuel cells a major energy resource for the 21st century.

Maximize it.

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