One of the major factors that have enabled the development and commercialization of advanced powertrain systems, such as hydrogen fuel cells, has been federal backup, via grants, loans, and incentives.
One might think that, after spectacular failures, such as A123 Systems and Fisker Automotive, the US Department of Energy [DOE] would be hesitant to dole out funds for research into advanced powertrain systems, and you would be right. On the other hand, there have been successes, such as Tesla Motors, proving that not all investments are without significant return. No, the DOE isn’t handing out cash to every Joe with a hydrogen fuel cell in his garage, but they’re definitely being more discerning in their choice of recipients.
Of course, if the DOE wants to work toward an energy-independent America, then they’ll need to put more funding into alternative fuels, renewable energy, and advanced powertrain technology. In the last ten years or so, hydrogen fuel cell development has reduced costs by up to 80% and increased efficiency dramatically. With better than 400 patents related to hydrogen fuel cell development and about 100 technologies on the market or close to market, the DOE says that the US is at the forefront of global hydrogen development.
With the $25 billion advanced powertrain development loan program still on the books, the DOE, in June, announced that $9 million would go to further developing hydrogen fuel cell technology. This month, half of that will be going to two projects focusing on advanced fuel cell membranes. 3M, in Minnesota, will receive $3 million to develop scalability of manufacturing, durability, and performance. The Colorado School of Mines will receive the other $1.5 million to develop membranes that are simpler, more affordable, and that will perform at higher temperatures.