PLUG OK license plate
Weekend: Maker Faire Day 1; BETTAH Prize; Bush in Sacramento
Apr 23, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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1. We're through Day One of our conversion of a Prius at Maker Faire in San Diego -- come see us today!­makerfaire/­

We're documenting the event with a video team and lots of cameras. Here's the first glimpse, from Jerry Pohorsky, EEA PHEV SIG Chairman­watch/­AA5bv7Ym Great shots, mostly taken late on the day, don't give a sense of the thousands of people walking by who have been asking questions, watching our work, and cheering us on. See initial text report, task list, etc. at­group/­eaa-phev/­ and technical documents at Wish us luck on Day 2 -- including, we hope the famous "smoke test:" what happens when you turn it on for the first time.

2. Our BETTAH animation won first Prize in the "other" category in the Palo Alto Greenlight film festival yesterday. Other entrants can be seen (for now) at the San Jose Mercury News:­video/­bm/­library.php?i=2

3. Pres. Bush visited the California Fuel Cell Partnership on Earth Day; readers of tea leaves can compare this statement to others and see the lowered expectations and lengthening timetables for hydrogen cars, and the concern among hydrogen fuel-cell advocates about how the combination of plug-in hybrids plus ethanol affects their case. From a news roundup listing the funding proposals for the fiscal years beginning October, we can see that hydrogen funding continues to dominate. hydrogen fuel cells: $289M, up from $53M solar:: $148M, up from $65M cellulosic ethanol: $150M, up from $59M wind: $44M, up from $39M plug-in hybrids: not mentioned, but I believe the relevant number is $31M.­news/­releases/­2006/­04/­20060422-3.html

I believe that today's children will one day take a driver's test in a hydrogen-powered, pollution-free car. That's the goal of the United States. And it's a big goal, but it's an attainable goal. All you got to do is look at the progress that has been made thus far. In 2003, I pledged that we would spend $1.2 billion over five years for hydrogen research and development, and we're on track to meet that goal.

One of the reasons I have come here is because I want the American people to understand that their tax dollars are yielding important results, that we are making progress, that the idea of having a hydrogen-powered automobile is not a foolish dream. It's a reality that is going to come to be. The funding is getting results. Since 2003, researchers have used federal funding to double the lifetime of the hydrogen fuel cell stacks that power cars. In order for this to work there has to be longevity -- you just can't be changing your fuel cell stacks all the time. There has to be durability in order for this to be a product that people will want to buy.

We've cut the cost of manufacturing hydrogen fuel cells in half. That's pretty rapid progress when you think the funding started in 2003, and the cost of the fuel cells have been reduced in half. And that is important. In order for this to become a part of life, these fuel cells have to be affordable. People have got to be able to buy them in order for them to be able to function properly. And we're making progress. We're heading for a hydrocarbon economy -- from a hydrocarbon economy to a hydrogen economy. And that's a very positive development.

There's another positive development taking place in America today, and that's the advent of the hybrid vehicle. And it's a good way to reduce our oil consumption right now. Hybrid vehicles have both a gasoline-powered engine and an electric battery, and they travel about twice as far on a gallon of fuel as gasoline-only vehicles. We can affect our dependence on oil by encouraging people to purchase hybrid vehicles. And that's why the federal government passed a law that says you get a tax credit of up to $3,400 for a hybrid vehicle purchase. In other words, we're trying to make it worthwhile for you to go out and purchase a hybrid vehicle through the use of a tax credit.

What's really going to be interesting, however, is what's called plug-in hybrid vehicles. And we're spending $31 million annually to speed up research into these battery technologies. And what this means is, is that we're trying to develop a battery that will power your vehicle, where you plug it in at night and you drive the first 40 miles on electricity alone. Now, think about what that means for big cities. A lot of people don't drive more than 40 miles a day in big cities. So all of a sudden you've now -- we're developing a technology that says you'll drive by the use of electricity, and you won't use gasoline at all.

And one way to affect consumption is to speed up the development of these plug-in hybrids, and we're doing just that at the federal level. It's a promising technology that will help people change the way they drive. It'll be a transition to the hydrogen fuel cell batteries.

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about ethanol. I'm a big proponent of ethanol. I like the idea of America's farmers being able to grow fuel. I like the idea of people saying, my corn crop is up and, therefore, we're less dependent on oil from somewhere. And that's what we're beginning to do. We're beginning to change driving habits of the American people by changing the fuel mix in their cars. Any vehicle can use ethanol with a concentration of less than 10 percent. With minor modifications, cars and trucks can become what's called flex-fuel vehicles that run on a fuel blend called E-85, which is a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

And there are a lot of E-85 fueling stations now, particularly in the Midwest where they grow a lot of corn. But the idea is to be able to use your money to figure out how to use other materials to be able to manufacture ethanol. And we're close to some interesting breakthroughs; we're close to breakthroughs to be able to make ethanol from wood chips and stalks and switch grass, and other natural materials. And it makes a lot of sense if we're trying to get off oil, and it makes sense to use taxpayers' money to research ways to use switch grass, for example, to become a fuel for your automobile. I think it does.

Catherine [Catherine Dunwoody, executive director of the CFCP] reminded me, however, in my discussions with her that switch grass can also be used to manufacture hydrogen. She wanted me to make sure -- (laughter) -- that in my description of what is possible in the United States that we -- make sure one technology does not pirate money for another technology. And it's not going to happen. What's going to happen is we'll have research on all fronts to achieve a grand national objective. And there's no doubt in my mind we'll be able to achieve this objective.

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