U.S. abandons fuel-efficiency plan, looks to fuel cells

| Wednesday, January 16, 2002

The Bush administration has abandoned a $1.5 billion government-subsidized project with domestic automakers to produce highly fuel efficient vehicles in favor of developing vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The new effort aims at the eventual replacement of the internal combustion engine.

Hoping to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil while reducing tailpipe pollution, the new program is designed to spur the growth of hydrogen fuel cells for the next generation of vehicles. Fuel cells produce electricity from a chemical reaction in which hydrogen and oxygen are combined without a flame. The only byproduct is water.

The latest effort replaces the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle that was started by the Clinton administration in 1993 with the Big Three domestic automakers to develop a vehicle that could get 80 miles per gallon fuel efficiency into showrooms by 2004. The carmakers developed prototype vehicles getting 70 mpg, but none came close to developing a fleet of 80-mpg vehicles. The average fuel economy of cars and trucks for sale in the United States has, meanwhile, steadily dropped to the worst fuel mileage in 21 years, according to the government.

The new government-industry partnership "will further the president's national energy policy, which calls for increased research in hydrogen technology to diversify and enhance America's energy security," says the Energy Department. Although several automakers have said they expect to have fuel-cell vehicles in showrooms within the next four to five years, experts say wide availability of such cars is probably 10 to 20 years away.

Watch for an article of fuel cells and what it means to truckers in the February issue of Land Line.

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