DOE Secretary Steven Chu Departs with a few Words on Hydrogen

04 Feb 2013

Steven Chu National Geographic Rebecca Hale

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu announced his decision not to serve a second term on Friday (1st February 2013). Although hydrogen and fuel cells did not get a direct mention within his 3,700-word resignation letter, the departing Secretary had this to say of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) when speaking to reporters at the Washington Auto Show: The DOE "will continue to support the fuel cell program. I think in the last year or two, I have been saying this is an important technology and we want to continue to support the research. Fuel cells can be incredibly reliable. There are many fuel cells in buses that have been running in buses for ten year, rock solid. But our target is a $20,000 personal vehicle that can compete with a 45- or even 50-mile-per-gallon internal combustion car."

Although the Obama administration has been proactive in advancing the commercialisation of fuel cells for stationary and niche applications, Chu’s commitment to fuel cells for personal transportation has never been particularly strong during his four-year tenure. This was exemplified most strongly in a 2009 interview with the MIT Technology Review, in which he dismissed hydrogen fuel cells for transport as a technology for ‘the distant future’. (More information on this topic is available in our 2012 Industry Review special feature ‘The Canonisation of FCEV’.) This lack of belief in the near-term benefits of FCEV has limited funding and many consider that he has been a roadblock to the industry as a whole. A successor has not been announced.

 

Image: Steven Chu for National Geographic by Rebecca Hale

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