The Basics of a hydrogen economy
The Hydrogen Push
History of Hydrogen
March 5, 2009
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BASF Fuel Cell supports University of South Carolina study
A University of South Carolina scientist has received a $320,000 grant from BASF Fuel Cell GmbH/Inc. to support research on high-temperature fuel cells.
Dr. Brian Benicewicz, the Center for Economic Excellence endowed chair in Polymer Nanocomposite Research, said the BASF award continues a decade of support for his research in the field of fuel-cell membranes, which often are considered the “heart” of fuel cells. “It’s an excellent partnership and a model for future industry-university relationships,” he said.
Benicewicz is known for his work in developing fuel-cell membranes that function at temperatures higher than most. This results in a fuel-cell system that is more durable and longer lasting. His research with BASF has resulted in the development of fuel-cell units that are being used in homes in Europe and portable power devices around the world.
He also is well known for his work in polymer nanocomposites, for which he designs new materials for electronics, optical, and other industrial applications.
Before joining the university’s chemistry and Nanocenter faculty last year, Benicewicz was director of the N.Y. State Center for Polymer Synthesis and a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
Hydrogen Expo coming to town
The National Hydrogen Association Conference and Expo comes to Columbia later this month, attracting more than 1,000 researchers, manufacturers and government and business leaders.
They’re looking for the latest research, technology and products — as well as to network.
When and where: The conference runs March 30-April 3 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
Showcase for S.C.: The conference is a chance for Columbia and South Carolina to highlight their hydrogen fuel-cell development efforts.
In Columbia’s case, the conference will show off the revitalized downtown to a national audience as well as demonstrate work by the city and USC to become a research hub.
To see work statewide, conference attendees can take day trips to Aiken to visit the Savannah River National Laboratory and the Center for Hydrogen Research (now called ARC:Hydrogen) and to Greenville to see the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.
Who’s talking: Speakers at the conference include officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Naval Research, the Indian Oil Co., French Atomic Energy Commission and automakers Honda and General Motors.
Patrick Moore, former president of Greenpeace Canada, and futurist David Houle also are scheduled to give keynote speeches.
Public welcome: The conference opens up to the public April 1.
On that day, the public can drive a hydrogen fuel-cell-powered car and see demonstrations of a hydrogen-powered robot, forklift and Segway personal vehicle. The public also can go the expo April 1 where they can visit hydrogen-related exhibitors.
The public also is invited to a town hall meeting on “The Good and the Bad About Hydrogen” at 2:30 p.m. April 2.
March 2, 2009
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Hydrogen: Hope or Hype?Leaders urge patience, saying seeds being planted now will take 20 years to payoff. But critics say USC putting eggs in one basket
By JEFF WILKINSON
State and local taxpayers have paid $40.7 million in the past five years to establish a USC research base in hydrogen fuel cells and create a cottage industry for Columbia and the Midlands.
For that investment, the region has attracted $23.4 million in outside research grants and applied for $35.8 million more. The investment has also generated about 100 jobs and created partnerships with dozens of private fuel cell companies or industries working with the technology.
It also has attracted a fuel cell manufacturing company — Trulite — built a hydrogen fueling station and has a host of demonstration projects, such as the fuel cell driven scoreboard at USC’s new baseball stadium.
USC also boasts the only National Science Foundation Fuel Cell Center in the nation.
And later this month, the National Hydrogen Association will bring more than 1,000 researchers, manufacturers and government officials to Columbia for its annual conference and expo.
Boosters say that’s not bad for being in only the fourth year of a 20-year plan to turn the Columbia area into a national center of hydrogen research, part of a statewide push to make hydrogen pay.
“This is the computer business in 1945,” said Neil McLean, executive director of Engenuity, the organization formed by the city of Columbia, USC and private business to the area’s coordinate hydrogen efforts.
“We’re plowing the field,” he said. “We’re putting seeds in the ground. We’re fertilizing. But the growing season on this is not three months. Its 20 years. Be patient.”
The $41 million is going for researchers at USC are working on making fuel cells more efficient for uses from cars to forklift batteries to back-up power sources.
But critics, including S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford, say that too much money has been spent on a technology that might not be the wave of the future.
Despite the influx of funding for the technology, hydrogen is still a very long-term long shot — a technological crap shoot that could pay off big time or fizzle out.
“Currently, hydrogen is kind of a novelty,” said Dana Levy, industrial research program manager for the New York State Research & Development Authority, which has been involved in hydrogen research, market creation and infrastructure for decades.
“But there are some things in the laboratory that could be huge game changers,” he said. “With an emerging technology there are all kinds of opportunity. And there is room for everybody. The problem is there are more good ideas than funds available.”
And money during a lengthy recession could be tougher to come by.
Levy noted that research money peaked in the past few years, but is “minimal” now because of more emphasis on other technologies.
“We had an extraordinary period for a few years,” he said. “But those funds have dried up.”
‘THE HOLY GRAIL’
While fuel cells can power anything from a laptop to a city’s electrical grid, cars are the target everyone is shooting for.
With a renewable energy source such as a solar or wind power to make hydrogen, a fuel cell-powered automobile uses no petroleum products and creates no pollution.
“Cars are the Holy Grail,” said Theodore Motyka, hydrogen project manager, who oversees a team of 40 hydrogen scientists at the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken County.
But in today’s race to replace oil as the dominant energy source in America, there are technologies that are much more road-ready than hydrogen or fuel cells.
“The thought that all cars will one day be running on hydrogen has died,” said Joseph Romm, a former acting undersecretary of energy for alternative fuels in the Clinton administration. He is the author of the book “The Hype About Hydrogen.”
“The auto makers know that the future is hybrids and plug-in vehicles,” he said
Hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius are available today and are becoming more widespread. Plug-in hybrid cars charged by electricity from your home are the next incarnation. Chevrolet is scheduled to have a model, the Volt, ready by next year. And then there are biofuels.
All those technologies can work off the fueling grids available now — either electricity or the old fashioned gas station. Hydrogen would take new infrastructure — hydrogen production and storage facilities, delivery systems and fueling stations — that could take decades to build and billions of dollars.
And with gasoline spiking to $4 a gallon last year and wars being fought over oil, the powers that be want solutions now.
“The question is what is the thing that can get to the market first,” said Tom Lynch, spokesman for the New York research authority. “We in New York have a portfolio approach.”
A plus for hydrogen is that none of those technologies — electricity or biofuels — are renewable and/or totally clean.
Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells convert the gas into electricity, then create water as a byproduct. In other words, you could create hydrogen with wind, sun or water power, run a car with a fuel cell, then drink the water coming out of the tail pipe.
The problem, beyond the infrastructure, is the production and storage of hydrogen — something the Savannah River National Laboratory has been studying since World War II.
“The U.S. Department of Energy has called that the greatest challenge,” project manager Motyka said.
Most of the applications for fuel cells today, he said, aren’t attached to a moving vehicle and aren’t as concerned abut the size of the storage facilities — battery packs, backup power generators.
Automobiles are “a realistic application,” Motyka said, “but it’s the most difficult application.”
Despite other, easier options for powering automobiles, other states in addition to South Carolina are continuing to pursue hydrogen as fuel.
California is building a system of hydrogen fueling stations, dubbed the “Hydrogen Highway,” as one solution to the state’s pollution problems.
The California Air Resources Board has built about 26 stations so far and has scheduled three more at a cost of $7.7 million.
Spokeswoman Gennet Paauwe said the board expends about $6 million a year on hydrogen efforts — mostly infrastructure — and it will be a part of the $110 million allocated for alternative fuels this year.
Another challenge is that it takes more electricity to make hydrogen than a fuel cell produces.
So if you are going to power your house with a fuel cell, or anything else, why not just use the solar, wind or water generated electricity to power your house and skip the hydrogen phase altogether.
“Until we have surplus electricity, why use it to make hydrogen?” New York’s Levy said.
So the trick is to make hydrogen production more efficient, hydrogen storage more compressed fuel cells better at producing power and continue to plug away at a delivery system and new vehicles.
The Columbia and USC research effort in fuel cells is part of a larger statewide effort:
• Scientists at the Savannah River National Laboratory and the Center for Hydrogen Research in Aiken are studying production and storage.
• Clemson’s ICAR center is working on vehicles.
• S.C. State University scientists are studying rural applications.
And a couple of the state’s aces in the hole are that S.C. Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is the chairman of the hydrogen caucus in the U.S. Senate, and Upstate Republican Bob Inglis is his counterpart in the U.S. House.
“The leaders of this state are not going for quick fixes,” said Shannon Baxter-Clemmons, executive director of the S.C. Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Alliance, which coordinates hydrogen and fuel cell efforts statewide.
“People who think that this is going to be a cakewalk have the wrong impression,” she said. “ They need to realize that.”
But state leaders are divided on hydrogen. Gov. Mark Sanford is lukewarm at best.
“We have supported some targeted investment in hydrogen,” Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said. “ But we don’t think it’s wise to put all our eggs in one basket. If you’re going to start funding research, you have to hedge your bets. The last thing we want is a bunch of politicians picking the industry of tomorrow.”
Sawyer said Sanford wants to support the effort, “but in a way consistent with market principles, where the private sector drives where we invest rather than government.”
He said USC’s Innovista research campus — intended to be a center for research on hydrogen and other technologies and a magnet for private companies building spin-off products — “was built on the Field of Dreams concept. Guess what? They haven’t come.”
Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, on the other hand, is one of hydrogen’s champion in the State House.
“I agree with the governor that the private sector should take the lead,” he said. “But in a state that is as poor as South Carolina has been since the 1800s, state government has to help facilitate this. And everything we have done has required a significant private sector participation.”
The money spent in the Midlands so far includes:
• $19 million in hydrogen’s share of the $48 million Horizon 1 research building and parking garage in USC’s Innovista research campus — a building that remains empty because it lacks about $20 million to finish it, in part, because of budget shortfalls.
• $16.3 million in state grants for researchers, such as USC’s endowed chairs program, which funds special researchers and their teams of scientists.
• And $5.4 million in grants and startup money for companies who want to build fuel cells here, as well as a hydrogen fueling station and administrative costs.
“It’s a lot of money,” Baxter-Clemmons said. “But the stakes are high for S.C. right now. We have invested in the good times on things that will serve us well. We are looking to get in on the beginning of something.
USC has attracted some of the world’s top researchers in hydrogen fuel cells.
Benicewicz, 54, joined the University of South Carolina in 2008 as the holder of the endowed chair in the Center of Economic Excellence for Polymer Nanocomposite Research. He is a former professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Benicewicz’s research funding includes grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and private industry — most recently BASF.
He also is collaborating with researchers in the university’s College of Engineering and Computing, a leader in alternative-fuels research and home to the nation’s only Industry/University Cooperative Research Center for Fuel Cells funded by the National Science Foundation.
Reifsnider is a professor of mechanical engineering at USC and director of the Center for Future Fuel Initiative. He is also director USC’s Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Center of Excellence.
Reifsnider has 40 years of teaching in a wide range of courses in mechanics and materials.
He held the Pratt & Whitney Chair at the University of Connecticut, and his research interests include durability, damage tolerance and strength-life, as well as relationships in material systems, performance and life prognosis, aging, material state changes, long-term behavior and fuel cell science and engineering.
John Van Zee
Van Zee, 52, joined USC in 1984 and has been working on electrochemical engineering for more than 25 years. He created and now serves as the director of the National Science Foundation Center for Fuel Cells, which is part of the Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers program. This is the foundation’s only center for fuel cells, and it has 24 dues-paying companies as research partners.
In 2005 he helped form the S.C. Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Alliance, a state organization with wide participation from small businesses, universities, national laboratories and government agencies.
In 2006 and 2007, he served as founding director of the Future Fuels initiative at USC, establishing international research relationships for USC professors and students with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy and the Korea Institute for Energy Research.
BANG FOR THE BUCK
Taxpayers have chipped in $40.7 million over the past five years for hydrogen and fuel cell research, administration and projects in the Midlands. Here’s the breakdown of what was spent and what it has returned so far.
State Government and USC Grants: $35.3 million
• $19 million for the percentage of the Innovista Horizon 1 building dedicated to hydrogen and fuel cells. The rest of the building will house research in other technologies.
• $16.3 million, the majority for: USC’s John Van Zee’s National Science Foundation Center for Fuel Cells; USC’s endowed chair Kenneth Reifsnider’s Solid Oxide Fuel Cell/Center of Economic Excellence; and, USC’s endowed chair Brian Benicewicz’ Polymer Nanocomposites/Center of Economic Excellence.
City of Columbia, USC, Engenuity and S.C. Research Authority grants and in-kind contributions: $5.4 million
• Fuel Cell Collaborative operations: $2.1 million for personnel, marketing, recruiting and project management
• Project Grants/Awards: $2.7 million for demonstrations, market tests and deployment funds
• Industry Conferences & Events: $600,000 in funding for recruiting industry events such as National Hydrogen Association Conference 2009, Fuel Cell South and National Hydrogen Association Military Forum
Federal/Private Sector Research grants:
• $15.2 million in federal grants awarded to Van Zee, Reifsnider, Benicewicz and others for hydrogen and fuel cell research.
• $8.2 million in private sector grants to Van Zee, Reifsnider, Benicewicz and others for hydrogen and fuel cell research.
• $35.8 million in grants applied for and pending for hydrogen and fuel cell research.
• Private Sector: 20 jobs
• USC Researchers: 70 jobs
• Administrative: 10 jobs
• 30-plus partnerships with private companies, mostly through USC’s National Science Foundation Center for Fuel Cells
• 20-plus commercial fuel cell projects, mostly through the Fuel Cell Challenge
• 40-plus research patents and licenses from which products can emerge
• 11 start-up companies, all in their infancy
The Basics of a hydrogen economy
Boosters say hydrogen and fuel cells have the potential to revolutionize the way the world makes and uses energy.
To date, hydrogen has been used to power everything from cell phones to space shuttles.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. It is lighter than air, colorless, odorless, tasteless and nontoxic at room temperature.
Hydrogen also contains more useful energy per pound than any other energy carrier. This means hydrogen is more efficient on a weight basis than any of the fuels currently used in air or ground transportation, experts say.
When hydrogen is used in a fuel cell, the only byproducts created are electricity, water and useful heat — no particulates, no carbon dioxide and no smog.
While hydrogen makes up most of the known universe, it’s rarely found on Earth in pure form.
Almost all hydrogen in use today is made by separating, or “reforming,” a hydrogen compound. Most hydrogen is produced from light hydrocarbons, such as natural gas, although in principle any hydrogen compound can be used — even plain water. Hydrogen also sometimes is produced as a byproduct of other chemical processes.
Natural gas accounts for 48 percent of current hydrogen production, but increasing renewable alternatives, such as water electrolysis via solar power, are gaining momentum and will contribute to the sustainability of clean hydrogen technologies.
Hydrogen can be stored in many ways, but it is usually compressed in steel or composite tanks and held at pressures up to 10,000 pounds per square inch, or liquefied at -423 degrees Fahrenheit. Liquid hydrogen has three times the amount of energy as an equal weight of gasoline. Hydrogen also can be stored in metal hydrides — granular metal that absorbs hydrogen.
Each of these storage technologies are currently being explored by both the Savannah River National Laboratory and the Center for Hydrogen Research, both in Aiken.
A national hydrogen distribution network supplies commercial users. Hydrogen is distributed by pipeline, truck and barge and in smaller portable containers.
Hydrogen has been produced, stored, transported and used for more than 40 years by NASA and other industrial groups.
HOW FUEL CELLS WORK
Essentially, a fuel cell operates like a battery but does not run down or require recharging. It will produce energy as long as fuel is supplied. A fuel cell consists of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte. Oxygen passes over one electrode and hydrogen over the other, generating electricity, water and heat.
Ever since the Hindenburg was destroyed by fire in 1937, hydrogen has been given a misleading reputation. Hydrogen was used only to keep the Hindenburg buoyant. It was the ship’s outer fabric that was coated with easily ignitable chemicals that was to blame for the disaster.
Hydrogen is lighter than air and diffuses rapidly. In the event of an accidental release, hydrogen disperses quickly upward into the atmosphere. Other fuels can take longer to disperse or may spill into the ground, requiring specialized cleanup efforts.
When hydrogen burns, its flames have very low radiant heat, which means there will be less risk of secondary fires. In the event of an automobile collision, hydrogen tanks won’t react like typical gasoline tanks, meaning that a resulting fire will disperse much quicker and the interior of the car will not heat up to extreme temperatures.
The hydrogen push
History of Hydrogen
I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute
it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an
intensity of which coal is not capable.”
— Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island (1874)
1766 — Hydrogen was first identified as a distinct element by British scientist Henry Cavendish after he separated hydrogen gas by reacting zinc metal with hydrochloric acid. In a demonstration to the Royal Society of London, Cavendish applied a spark to hydrogen gas yielding water. This discovery led to his later finding that water (H2O) is made of hydrogen and oxygen.
1783 — Jacques Alexander Cesar Charles, a French physicist, launched the first hydrogen balloon flight. Known as “Charliere,” the unmanned balloon flew to an altitude of 3 kilometers. Only three months later, Charles himself flew the first manned hydrogen balloon.
1788 — Building on the discoveries of Cavendish, French chemist Antoine Lavoisier gave hydrogen its name, which was derived from the Greek words “hydro” and “genes,” meaning “water” and “born of.”
1800 — English scientists William Nicholson and Sir Anthony Carlisle discovered that applying electric current to water produced hydrogen and oxygen gases. This process was later termed “electrolysis.”
1839 — The fuel cell effect, combining hydrogen and oxygen gases to produce water and an electric current, was discovered by Swiss chemist Christian Friedrich Schoenbein.
1845 — English scientist and judge Sir William Grove demonstrated Schoenbein’s discovery by creating a “gas battery.” For his achievement he earned the title “Father of the Fuel Cell.”
1920s — German engineer Rudolf Erren converted the internal combustion engines of trucks, buses and submarines to use hydrogen or hydrogen mixtures. British scientist and Marxist writer J.B.S. Haldane introduced the concept of renewable hydrogen in his paper, “Science and the Future,” by proposing that “there will be great power stations where during windy weather the surplus power will be used for the electrolytic decomposition of water into oxygen and hydrogen.
1937 — After 10 successful trans-Atlantic flights from Germany to the United States, the Hindenburg, a blimp inflated with hydrogen gas, erupted into flames while landing in Lakewood, N.J. (See 1997)
1958 — The United States formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA’s space program uses the most liquid hydrogen worldwide, primarily for rocket propulsion and as a fuel for fuel cells.
1959 — Francis T. Bacon of Cambridge University in England built the first practical hydrogen-air fuel cell. The 5-kilowatt system powered a welding machine. He named his fuel cell design the “Bacon Cell.” Later that year, Harry Karl Ihrig, an engineer for the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co., demonstrated the first fuel cell vehicle: a 20Ð horsepower tractor. Hydrogen fuel cells, based upon Bacon’s design, have been used to generate on-board electricity, heat and water for astronauts aboard the famous Apollo spacecraft and all subsequent space shuttle missions.
1970 — Electrochemist John O’M. Bockris coined the term “hydrogen economy.” He later published “Energy: The Solar-Hydrogen Alternative,” describing his envisioned hydrogen economy where cities in the United States could be supplied with solar energy.
1972 — A 1972 Gremlin, modified by The University of California at Los Angeles, entered the 1972 Urban Vehicle Design Competition and won first prize for the lowest tailpipe emissions. Students converted the Gremlin’s internal combustion engine to run on hydrogen supplied from an onboard tank.
1973 — The OPEC oil embargo and the resulting supply shock suggested that the era of cheap petroleum had ended and that the world needed alternative fuels. The development of hydrogen fuel cells for conventional commercial applications began.
1974 — Professor T. Nejat Veziroglu of the University of Miami, Fla., organized The Hydrogen Economy Miami Energy Conference, the first international conference held to discuss hydrogen energy. Following the conference, the scientists and engineers who attended formed the International Association for Hydrogen Energy.
1977 — The International Energy Agency was established in response to global oil market disruptions. IEA activities included the research and development of hydrogen energy technologies. The U.S. Department of Energy also was created.
1978 — The National Science Foundation transferred the Federal Hydrogen Research & Development Program to the U.S. Department of Energy.
1988 — The Soviet Union Tupolev Design Bureau successfully converted a 164-passenger TU-154 commercial jet to operate one of the jet’s three engines on liquid hydrogen. The maiden flight lasted 21 minutes.
1989 — The National Hydrogen Association formed in the United States with 10 members. Today, the NHA has nearly 100 members, including representatives from the automobile and aerospace industries; federal, state and local governments; universities; researchers; and utilities and energy providers. The International Organization for Standardization’s Technical Committee for Hydrogen Technologies also was created.
1990 — The world’s first solar powered hydrogen production plant at Solar-Wasserstoff-Bayern, a research and testing facility in southern Germany, became operational. The U.S. Congress passed the Spark M. Matsunaga Hydrogen, Research, Development and Demonstration Act, which called for a five-year management and implementation plan for hydrogen research and development in the United States. The Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel was mandated by the Matsunaga Act to ensure consultation on and coordination of hydrogen research.
1991 — Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., begins development of three 30-foot Fuel Cell Test Bed Buses as part of their Generation I Bus Program. In 2001, Georgetown finished their second Generation II bus, which uses hydrogen from methanol to power a 100-kilowatt fuel cell “engine.”
1992 — The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a cooperative research and development program, was established by the Clinton administration as a joint effort between the government and automobile manufacturers for the research and development of new vehicles technologies and alternative fuels, including hydrogen.
1994 — Daimler Benz demonstrated the NECAR I (New Electric CAR), its first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, at a news conference in Ulm, Germany.
1995 — The Chicago Transit Authority unveiled the first of their three hydrogen fuel cell buses. The small pilot fleet began operation the following year.
1997 — Retired NASA engineer Addison Bain challenged the belief that hydrogen caused the Hindenburg accident. The hydrogen, Bain demonstrated, did not cause the catastrophic fire but rather it was the combination of static electricity and highly flammable material on the skin of the airship.
1998 — Iceland unveiled a plan to create the first hydrogen economy by 2030.
1999 — Europe’s first hydrogen fueling stations were opened in the German cities of Hamburg and Munich. The Royal Dutch/Shell Co. committed to a hydrogen future by forming a hydrogen division. Also, a consortium of Icelandic institutions, headed by the financial group New Business Venture Fund, partnered with Royal Dutch/Shell Group, DaimlerChrysler (a merger of Daimler Benz and Chrysler) and Norsk Hydro to form the Icelandic Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Co. Ltd., to further the hydrogen economy in Iceland.
2001 — Ballard Power Systems launched the world’s first volume produced proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell system designed for integration into a wide variety of industrial and consumer end-product applications.
2002 — Executives from DaimlerChrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., along with Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, announced a new cooperative automotive research (CAR) partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Council for Automotive Research. The program, FreedomCAR, focuses on developing enabling technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells, for petroleum-free cars and light trucks.
2003 — President George W. Bush announced in his 2003 State of the Union Address a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative to develop the technology for commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells, such that “the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution free.” U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham launched the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy to foster global cooperation in the development of hydrogen technology.
2004 — Abraham announced more than $350 million devoted to hydrogen research and vehicle demonstration projects, nearly one-third of President Bush’s commitment. The funding encompasses more than 30 lead organizations and more than 100 partners selected through a competitive review process.