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Bush touts benefits of hydrogen fuel

Cites risk in reliance on 'foreign sources' of oil

President Bush vows to work with Congress to develop hydrogen fuel technologies.
President Bush vows to work with Congress to develop hydrogen fuel technologies.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States can change its dependence on foreign oil and "make a tremendous difference" in the world and the environment, President Bush said Thursday as he announced details of a $1.2 billion initiative to make hydrogen fuel competitive for powering vehicles and generating electricity.

"We can change our dependence upon foreign sources of energy. We can help with the quality of the air. We can make a fundamental difference for the future of our children," the president said at the National Building Museum in Washington. "Hydrogen fuel cells represent one of the most encouraging, innovative technologies of our era."

One leading environmental group applauded the idea of hydrogen fuel, but said the president's initiative was more show than substance.

"Hydrogen fuel cells will play a key role in a clean energy future, but the president's plan won't get us there," Daniel Becker, director of the Global Warming and Energy program at the Sierra Club, said in a written statement. He said Bush's initiative "doesn't guarantee that a single fuel cell car goes on the market," and he criticized the plan as relying too heavily on "polluting forms of energy" -- such as coal, nuclear power and oil -- to produce the hydrogen.

U.S. astronauts have used fuel cells to generate electricity since the 1960s, but more work is needed to make this technology cost-effective for everyday use in cars, trucks, homes and businesses, the White House said in a statement released to accompany the president's speech.

Bush outlined several advantages to hydrogen fuel: that it can be produced from domestic sources, that the sources of hydrogen are abundant and that it's clean to use.

"Cars that will run on hydrogen fuel produce only water, not exhaust fumes," meaning they could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help America "take the lead when it comes to tackling the long-term challenges of global climate change," he said.

But the greatest result of using hydrogen power, Bush declared, will be the nation's energy independence.

"It's important for our country to understand, I think most Americans do, that we import over half of our crude oil stocks from abroad. And sometimes we import that oil from countries that don't particularly like us." The president said this dependence is risky.

"To be dependent on energy from volatile regions of the world, our economy becomes subject to price shocks or shortages or disruptions, at one time in our history, cartels. If we develop hydrogen power to its fuel potential, we can reduce our demand for oil by over 11 million barrels per day by the year 2040."

Bush vowed he would work with Congress to push hydrogen fuel cell technologies, reiterating the pledge from his State of the Union address that a child born today will be driving a hydrogen, pollution-free vehicle as his or her first car.

Critics faulted Bush's proposal.

The president's plan, said the Sierra Club's Becker, "serves as a shield" to protect automakers from improving fuel economy, a step he said would reduce the nation's dependence on foreign energy faster than Bush's plan would.

"We look forward to the day 20 years from now when hydrogen-powered cars are widely available. But we can't afford to sit back and wait for that day. We need to do something to address the problem immediately," Becker said.

The president's hydrogen fuel initiative calls for $720 million in new funding over the next five years to develop the technologies and infrastructure to produce, store, and distribute hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles and in generating electricity.

Combined with the FreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research) initiative, the White House said, the president is proposing a total of $1.7 billion over the next five years to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cells, hydrogen infrastructure and advanced automotive technologies.

The president's hydrogen fuel initiative seeks to lower the cost of producing hydrogen enough to make fuel-cell cars cost-competitive with conventional gasoline-powered vehicles by the year 2010, according to the administration.

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