Today U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that he is urging the Congress to reverse the Administration’s proposed $37 million cut to the Department of Energy’s hydrogen fuel cell research program. Schumer toured the Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) fuel cell labs, rode in a fuel cell propelled car (made start-to-finish in Rochester) and visited their hydrogen fueling station. Schumer said that the combination of the Honeoye Fuel Center, RIT, University of Rochester, and Delphi’s local plant make the region the leading fuel cell location in North America. He also said that fully funding the fuel cell program would help secure the future of fuel cells in this country and ultimately provide the region with a huge economic boost.
Schumer was joined by RIT President William Destler, Dan O’Connell from General Motors Honeoye Falls lab and Delphi Union representative Dan Maloney.
“Between Honeoye Falls, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester and Delphi, Rochester has become the place to be for fuel cell research and development in this country,” said Schumer. “With the right investments, we can use what we’ve developed here to wean our country off of foreign oil and grow a local economic engine – but without the right investments, it will be much more difficult. It is wrongheaded for the administration to cut funding for this incredibly promising technology, especially in light of what is happening in the Gulf, and I will fight with every ounce of strength I have to restore these cuts.”
RIT President Bill Destler joined Schumer on a tour of the fuel cell lab and hydrogen fueling station. "We are very honored that Senator Schumer has chosen RIT to highlight the strategic national significance of fuel cell technology," says President Destler. "We believe that our region can be a national hub for fuel cell technology, thanks to an unparalleled cluster of academic and industry resources and expertise working together to advance research, development and commercialization in the field."
The federal government funds hydrogen and fuel cell research through a Department of Energy (DOE) program called the Fuel Cell Technologies Program. That program, wrongly, Schumer believes, has been targeted for significant cuts by this administration. The fiscal year (FY) 2009 DOE budget funded the program at $168 million, but the current administration proposed cutting the budget by about $100 million (60%) for FY 2010. Schumer and his colleagues were able to restore the FY2010 funding and the program ended up being funded at $174 million. This year the administration is again proposing to cut the program by $37 million (20%) in the FY2011 budget.
Today Schumer announced that he would be asking the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development to not abide by the administrations recommendations and to not cut the program. The Subcommittee is the ultimate arbiter of the Department of Energy’s budget.
Rochester is home to a number of cutting edge hydrogen fuel cell research, development and production institutions, and has become the nationwide leader in the technology:
· RIT has the Center for Sustained Mobility which has research programs in hydrogen fuel technology, fuel cell development, alternative fuels and hybrid vehicle systems – the propulsion system for the car Schumer rode in today was designed and built entirely in Rochester.
· The University of Rochester is engaged in research to improve the quality in fuel cells, and was responsible for last year’s breakthrough development of long platinum nanowires that will assist in fuel cells’ commercialization.
· Honeoye Falls is where General Motors, in a partnership with RIT, is researching and developing all of the company’s hydrogen fuel cell technology.
· Delphi’s Rochester plant, working with its neighboring partners, is also working on fuel cell development, including for military purposes.
Recognizing what it could mean for the Rochester region, Schumer has long been an advocate for fuel cells. He was integral in securing full funding for fuel cell research last year when the federal program was targeted for huge cuts, and has introduced legislation to allow fuel cells built for off-highway use (such as in forklifts) to be eligible for federal tax credits, which will increase the demand for fuel cell products. Most recently, Schumer has been working with the Navy, pushing them to choose General Motors’ Honeoye Falls plant to design and build high-tech fuel cell technologies that will ultimately be deployed in a new fleet of underwater vehicles.
Schumer said that the fuel cell industry is just beginning to achieve its promise and could ultimately create thousands of jobs locally and hundreds of thousands across the country. A growing fuel cell industry also means growth in manufacturing across the supply chain, sales, service and related fields. According to the U.S. Fuel Cell Council, Department of Energy and private sector studies project that up to 700,000 new jobs are possible in the fuel cell industry in the next 10 to 20 years. And a strong public-private partnership is key to ensure the benefits of fuel cell commercialization are realized in the US.