U.S. Rep. Inglis: "We can benefit by building a hydrogen highway"

Representative Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) has got the prescription for the hydrogen blues. Think building the hydrogen economy is a waste of money and energy? Inglis sees it as "innovation jobs springing up nationwide." Think making ethanol is already a losing prospect, energy-wise? Inglis want to further refine cellulosic ethanol (made from things like switchgrass) into hydrogen. Think the decades it will take to turn America onto hydrogen mean we should perhaps temper our excitement of the H2 future? Inglis says, "it won't be long before I see the hydrogen cars driving down my street."
In a statement released Friday, Inglis, the ranking member of the Environment, Technology and Standards subcommittee of the Science Committee, points out work by automakers on hydrogen vehicles, university programs on the hydrogen economy issues and national labs on "basic research with practical solutions to produce the breakthroughs we need." Bringing up one issue that will certainly not appeal to a lot of old-school environmentalists, Inglis mentions that General Motors and Toyota have contracted with the Savannah River National Lab (SRNL) work on work on storage issues for radioactive hydrogen (tritium).

We've put the whole of Inglis' statement after the break for you check it out yourself (it's also at Fuel Cell Works). I'll give Inglis credit for a nice road-building metaphor in his statement, but you've got to admit there's a lot of bridge to nowhere talk in there, too.

[Source: Fuel Cell Works]
We can benefit by building a hydrogen highway
By Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.)

Imagine America no longer dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Imagine air without car fumes and with far less CO2. Imagine innovation jobs springing up nationwide.

Daring? Yes.

Deluded? No.

It's America's hydrogen highway, and it is already being built in your backyard. State and local hydrogen research and innovation will soon link with other states to form a roadway toward energy security.

Just like with regular highways, we must first buy some right of way. We can do that with the fuel conservation that higher corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards would bring. Next, we need to clear the right of way with further incentives for hybrids and ethanol and bio-diesel. The rock for the road can be brought in from reinvigorated farmlands from which switchgrass, genetically engineered trees and other feedstocks can create the ethanol that can be reformed into hydrogen. A new kind of asphalt can come from collaborations between industry, academia, and the National Labs.

Those partners are already baking some asphalt for America's hydrogen highway:

• General Motors has already invested over a billion dollars of its own capital in hydrogen research, and plans to invest nearly a billion more by 2010. Nearly every major car company has a mature hydrogen research-and-development program, from BMW and Mazda's internal combustion engine, to Volkswagen's high-temperature fuel cells, to fuel-cell programs at GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Honda, Toyota, Nissan and more.

• Universities all across America are contributing to the basic research that is leading to breakthroughs in production, distribution, and storage of hydrogen. South Carolina's research universities are working to make fuel-cell membranes more durable. Universities are wisely partnering with industry to target their research and are teaming with entrepreneurs to form spin-off, start-up companies to bring breakthroughs to the marketplace.

• Our National Labs - like Sandia, Argonne, and Oak Ridge - are combining their decades of expertise in basic research with practical solutions to produce the breakthroughs we need. The Savannah River National Lab (SRNL) is bringing to bear 50 years of expertise in storing radioactive hydrogen (tritium), and General Motors and Toyota have contracted with SRNL to work on storage issues.

And it won't be long before I see the hydrogen cars driving down my street.

Officials from BMW's Spartanburg, S.C., plant were in Los Angeles last November to celebrate the company's delivery of 25 of its 7 Series cars that run on hydrogen and gasoline. The powerful V12 internal combustion engine can burn hydrogen when it's available and gasoline when it's not - all with a simple press of a button.

Can America's hydrogen highway survive changes in congressional control? Sure it can. This isn't a Republican highway or a Democratic highway; it's America's highway.

The 110th Congress has the opportunity to prove that we - Republicans and Democrats, Congress and the president - can work together to build this hydrogen future.

The Democrats are already working on redirecting into alternative energy research the tax credits that benefited the oil companies. That's a good idea and something that I wish we Republicans could have done when we controlled the House.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) and I reintroduced our "H-Prize" that passed through the House on a 416-6 vote but stalled in the Senate. Modeled after the "X Prize" that rewarded entrepreneurial space flight, our bill would set up prizes for breakthroughs in hydrogen production, distribution and storage. Perhaps a new chairman on the Senate side will help us get this bill all the way to the president's desk in this next Congress.

The president can inspire the nation (and ruin the day of the terrorists we're funding with our oil purchases) with an Apollo-style commitment to a hydrogen future. He can lay out the vision of being on the road to hydrogen within 10 years. He can explain that it's about our national security, cleaner air and high-quality jobs in car-producing states like South Carolina and Michigan. He can explain that the reinvention of the car can catapult America onto a higher economic plateau that will spin off revenue to the federal government, enabling us to balance our budget if we couple that growth with spending restraint.

One of the lessons of the 2006 election cycle is that Americans really don't care which team gets the credit for solving our problems; they just want the problems solved. They also want us to be bold. America didn't get to the moon by waiting for it to come close. America's hydrogen highway won't just appear one day.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong turned off the rudimentary computers that were supposed to land the Eagle on the surface of the moon. He wanted to fly it himself. Understandable, because he may well have been landing in his grave; we had no way of knowing the depth of the moon dust. As the world watched, everyone at Mission Control knew that the Eagle could disappear, never to be heard from again. As God would have it, the thrusters blew away a thin layer of dust, and the Eagle landed safely.

If we went to the moon on boldness, determination and slide-rule calculations, imagine what we can do here on Earth as we break our addiction to oil.

Inglis is the ranking member of the Environment, Technology and Standards subcommittee of the Science Committee.

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