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Industry seeks federal funding to help develop fuel-cell technology

November 24, 2010
The American auto industry could fall behind its foreign rivals if government agencies do not help develop fuel cellpowered vehicles, industry executives told a U.S. House panel June 26. Federal officials should boost funding for research into fuel cells, which produce electricity from hydrogen, and help automakers bring vehicles powered by the nearly pollutionfree technology to consumers, the executives told an energy subcommittee. "Other countries are hard at work putting the hydrogeneconomy principles to work. The hydrogen economy is coming and the time to lead is now," said Roger Saillant, president of Plug Power Inc, a fuel-cell manufacturer. State and local governments also must relax barriers that could stall increased fuel-cell use, said Byron McCormick, who oversees fuel cell operations for General Motors Corp. "When we did the (EV-1) electric car in California, we were amazed at the number of conflicting regulations and requirements," he said. GM and other automakers increasingly see fuel cells as the eventual replacement to the oil-burning internal combustion engine, but the technology so far has been limited to prototypes and experimental test vehicles. The technology must be refined and hydrogen fuels made more widely available before consumers will see fuel-cell vehicles in showrooms. Lawmakers are concerned that foreign automakers could perfect the fuel-cell technology first. "Japan is getting ahead of us," said U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif. "Are we going to be able to stay ahead and not lose?"