Fuel-cell advocates are none too happy about Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s abrupt decision earlier this month to cancel $100 million in hydrogen funding.

In a joint statement, the U.S. Fuel Cell Council and the National Hydrogen Association said, “The cuts proposed in the DOE hydrogen and fuel-cell program threaten to disrupt commercialization of a family of technologies that are showing exceptional promise and beginning to gain market traction. Fuel-cell vehicles are not a science experiment. These are real vehicles with real marketability and real benefits. Hundreds of fuel-cell vehicles have collectively logged millions of miles.”

The groups had asked for $1.2 billion in funding, but now the tally is down to $68 million for stationary fuel cells to be used as backup power. But the advocates think he can still be reasoned with. Robert Rose, executive director of the U.S. Fuel Cell Council, says he thinks the energy secretary has been too busy to focus on hydrogen, and he hopes Congress will reverse the decision. “We aren’t giving up on Dr. Chu,” he said.

Chu evidently got an earful at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee May 19. According to Dr. C.E. “Sandy” Thomas, a passionate hydrogen advocate who heads H2Gen and was in attendance, Chu took some flak. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said he was “stunned” by the flat funding for hydrogen, calling it a “significant mistake” that was “not a smart thing to do.” He said he will “do everything we can to restore the program.” Dorgan also said that the program was 10 years old, preceding George W. Bush’s occupancy of the White House, and had been making significant progress.

Also offering complaints, though not about hydrogen, was Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who complained that Chu was not returning her calls. More to the point, J. Byron McCormick, GM’s former fuel-cell chief, resigned from a DOE hydrogen advisory group when the funding cut was announced. “As I thought about the decision, how it was worded, and the fact that the budget was zeroed, I didn’t feel I could in any way appear to be supportive,” he said.

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