Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hydrogen car, we hardly knew ye.

The Wall Street Journal informs us...


President Obama’s proposed 2010 budget calls for cutting funding for [developing hydrogen car technology] as part of an effort to shift to technologies “with more immediate promise”...

Six years ago, President Bush called for new federal funding for research into how to produce and distribute hydrogen and then store it in tanks so it can be used in fuel-cell-powered cars.

"Our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free,” Mr. Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union address....

Patrick Serfass, a spokesman for the National Hydrogen Association in Washington, expressed disappointment with the administration ... "We think it’s a mistake. The National Research Council has been advocating a portfolio approach to vehicle technologies ... It’s too early to pick technology winners and losers.”

Which is exactly what Obama's people are doing (using the Ouija board) in determining today what will be the best technology of a generation from now, to invest taxpayers' money in it today. But what else is it going to do?

If it's the government's job to provide the technology of the future, well, it certainly doesn't have enough money to go around for everything. (And it's not going to get any credit for itself by sticking with the prior administration's choice of technology of the future). So it has to make a choice, as the WSJ notes elsewhere...
The Obama administration’s about-face on hydrogen cars appears to amount to picking a winner.

Why is hydrogen a non-starter even as biofuels are getting more love from Team Obama? Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s rationale for killing the hydrogen program fits squarely with the administration’s embrace of pragmatism:

“We’re going to be moving away from hydrogen-fuel cells for vehicles,” Chu said. “We asked ourselves, is it likely in the next 10 or 15, or even 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy? The answer, we felt, was no.”

But doesn’t that apply equally to electric cars, or the hope that massively increasing the use of biofuels will lead to energy independence? And both of those transportation alternative are getting more, not less, funding in the federal budget.

If hydrogen’s murky future is just a question of cost, as Dan Sperling of the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies pointed out, the government has an easy remedy to hand: Just channel the billions of dollars a year in biofuel subsidies toward a hydrogen-car infrastructure. ...

In short, the federal government seems to be getting into the business of picking winners.
After all, the government is so good at this!

President Nixon called for a low-emissions car in 1970. Jimmy Carter urged the reinvention of the car in 1977. The Clinton administration started the “Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles” in 1993. President Bush launched the FreedomCar project in 2003.
(Let us not consider the possibility that the government will make the wrong choice, not only costing the taxpayers billions of dollars but also, by misdirecting resources and directing government support for a "loser" technology, setting back the adoption of future technologies that prove superior. Say: Carter Administration, Synfuels Corporation.)

What better alternative is there? Let the free market figure it out, on the dime of investors, not taxpayers?

How would politicians take credit for that?