April 27, 2006 12:26 PM PDT

Feds propose $100 million hydrogen prize

WASHINGTON--Rising gas prices have sparked a new proposal in Congress that would pony up millions of taxpayer dollars to reward hydrogen energy breakthroughs.

Backed primarily by Republicans, the H-Prize Act of 2006 would create three categories of prizes to be awarded over the next decade, including a $100 million berth for "transformational changes in technologies for the distribution or production of hydrogen that meet or exceed far-reaching objective criteria." It would be up to the U.S. Department of Energy to designate an independent, non-governmental organization to set the contest's rules and pick its judges.

Smaller awards of up to $1 million would be distributed every other year to inventions in four categories: hydrogen production, storage, distribution, and utilization. In alternate years, one prize of up to $4 million would go to those who achieve prototypes of hydrogen-powered vehicles or other products that meet certain predetermined benchmarks.

"To those that missed the national security implications of our current posture and reliance on a fuel source that we don't control, I would encourage them to think beyond the possibility that maybe the market can come up with a solution to that," Rep. Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican and the bill's chief sponsor, said at a morning hearing here of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee. "Perhaps there's a role for government in getting us as quickly as possible beyond that danger point."

The measure draws inspiration from what supporters deem a proven track record of breakthroughs driven by prizes. They credited a $25,000 prize offered in 1919 by French businessman Raymond Orteig for bringing stardom to then-unknown pilot Charles Lindbergh and his pioneering transatlantic airplane flight--and more importantly, igniting the nation's interest in aviation. More recently, 26 teams from seven countries competed for the $10-million Ansari X-Prize, granted to the first privately funded team to devise a three-person, reusable spacecraft that could fly to 100 kilometers above the Earth.

X-Prize Foundation CEO Peter Diamandis said prizes work because, if done well, they attract a flurry of outside attention from people in a variety of fields who aren't necessarily inclined to deal with the bureaucracy involved in federal research grants. "That allows the most brilliant, sometimes the most radical, thinkers to enter and solve the problems we have," he told the politicians.

President Bush has already made research on viable hydrogen fuel-cell cars a major part of his energy policy agenda. Congress earmarked $136 million specifically for such research in 2006, down from $149 million in 2005.

The technology's expense, however, remains a major hurdle. According to researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy, hydrogen would cost three or four times more than gasoline. Fuel cells cost at least five times as much as standard combustion engines and aren't nearly as durable. It's also proving tough to build hydrogen storage systems that can hold enough fuel to travel more than 300 miles without taking up too much space in the vehicle.

"We need independent scientific breakthroughs in each of these three areas," David Greene, a corporate fellow at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, told politicians.

Greene said he believed the prizes would "increase the likelihood" of such advancements occurring but strongly cautioned the committee against using those incentives as a substitute for research and development investments. The existing bill contains a section that says the prizes "shall not be considered" such a substitute.

But some members suggested that's an impossible goal given the current federal budget situation. "Neither president nor Congress is going to be able to find the money for such a prize without taking money out of other vital energy research and development programs," said Rep. Judy Biggert, an Illinois Republican. All told, the bill calls for $55 million each year between 2007 and 2016 to run the program.

"One of the things we hear about is the huge profits made by the oil and gas industry, so why not use the profits to pay for something such as a prize?" Biggert asked Phillip Baxley, president of Shell Hydrogen, who testified at the committee hearing in favor of the bill. The bill does not prohibit private companies or individuals from contributing to the prize money and, in fact, suggests such an approach.

Baxley said Shell would be interested in sponsoring a prize but suggested the initial federal "seed money" would put a spotlight on the importance of hydrogen research.

Rep. Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat, said he was concerned about singling out hydrogen when the nation should be exploring myriad ways to ensure its energy independence. Perhaps an "E-Prize," or energy prize, would be more appropriate, he suggested.

"Why are we not doing more about conservation?" he asked. "Are we biasing our energy approach by focusing this prize and so much that we're doing on the hydrogen economy?"

See more CNET content tagged:
hydrogen, breakthrough, R&D, Republican


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Check this out
In my mind these people have already made a breakthrough on storing hydrogen. www.switch2hydrogen.com I thought this was ingenious when someone told me about it.
Posted by GT1FAN (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lack of Understanding
This hydrogen prize shows the lack of understanding that politicians have on this energy issue.

What they don't seem to be able to comprehend is that hydrogen is NOT an alternative energy source. Hydrogen will NOT replace oil or gas. There is no place on earth to drill for hydrogen, hydrogen must be made, and to make it, you require energy from somewhere. Hydrogen is a CARRIER of energy, not a source of energy!!!

The most efficient method of making hydrogen we have today requires natural gas and we are already running low on that. Hydrogen can be made with electricity but we haven't got enough of that either and what we do have is mostly made from fossil fuels that we are running out of. The only benefit that hydrogen could bring to the table would be if we had lots of natural gas, which we don't, we could convert the natural gas to hydrogen to remove the carbon and not contribute to global warming with hydrogen cars.

Even the oil companies don't believe hydrogen is a solution, but for some reasons the politicians seems to hang on to it.

There should be a prize and far more government investment, but not in hydrogen. They should put money into improving solar by reducing cost and efficiency, expanding wind and expanding use of ethanol made from both sugar or biomass. Making ethanol from corn is another sham because it requires so much energy to make.

Lastly no amount of alternative energy will replace out current demand so there needs to be government investment in massive conservation. There are huge opportunities to reduce consumption through efficiency, but you never hear about this.
Posted by altenergy (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
super hydrogen
Posted by spytrdr (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
super hydrogen
Posted by spytrdr (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.