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Bush on Hydrogen?

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
February 11, 2003


I must give credit to President Bush for raising the issue of Hydrogen fuel cell technology in his State of the Union Address. His motivations aside, it's nice to know the federal government is acknowledging alternative energy. But more than proposals are needed. The pledge of 1.5 billion dollars in research funds will only scratch the surface, if George is serious about his grandchildren driving fuel cell trucks around Crawford.

Hydrogen is the fuel of the future. Abundant and clean running, fuel cell technology promises to revolutionize the way humans do business. By drawing attention to the need for non-polluting automobiles, President Bush sends the message environmentalists have been delivering for years. At current spending levels, mass production of fuel cells is years away.

Unfortunately, the President has done little else to reduce American dependency on fossil fuels.

Research in fuel cell technology is nice, but the Bush Administration must encourage the use of products already on the market. Americans grotesquely underutilize solar energy and that needs to change. Here in Southern Californian we should have converted to renewable energy decades ago. Had we done so, the energy crisis would not have been possible, and the State of California wouldn't now be facing a $34.6 billion deficit, and forced to cut school funding, environmental protections, and other essential services.

By upgrading all government buildings to the use of solar integrated power we begin the road to sustainable energy independence. If the roof of every school and university were covered with photovoltaics we could save billions of dollars in energy purchases while investing the money saved on programs cut due to previous mismanagement. If Gray Davis is unwilling to lead the way, his successor will need to be.

Drilling for oil has no place in an economy based in environmental sustainability. By tapping into the sun with photovoltaics, our homes can generate the electricity needed to operate them. Fuel cells make vehicles portable power plants. In the desert southwest, hydrogen, wind, and solar could easily meet the needs of residents lucky enough to live here.

Some critics of President Bush point out his idea of fuel cell research involves the continued use of oil and natural gas. Hopefully such research will prove unproductive and the scientists involved can turn the attention to innovation based in non-polluting fuel sources. Meanwhile scientists committed to a post petroleum culture will continue to move beyond the use of internal combustion engine and the wasteful practice of burning fuel to generate energy.

Fuel cells produce electricity with chemical reactions rather than combustion, converting fuel into electricity more efficiently than power plants and internal combustion engines. Best of all fuel cells produce no toxic emissions or noise. According to Amory Lovins, co-author of Natural Capitalism and a founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, fuel cell technology is already a reality, which with the right commitment could be made widely available and easily affordable for most consumers.

Thank you President Bush for taking this small step for humankind. There is no reason America cannot lead the world in the development of non-polluting transportation technologies. But to do so we must kick the oil addiction currently dictating American foreign policy, and limiting national progress.

By acknowledging a need for something better we just might achieve it.

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