A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

Well, that didn’t last long. The honeymoon that new Secretary of Energy Steven Chu enjoyed has ended, at least among hydrogen energy researchers and advocates. With the announcement that funding for the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle program has been eliminated in DOE’s 2009-10 budget request, Chu caused consternation, even anger, in the hydrogen world.

Chu explained his choice by saying that when he asked the question of whether or not hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would contribute to our economy in 10 to 15 or even 20 years, the answer he felt, was “no.” Instead, Chu wants to focus funding on plug-in hybrids and battery technology.

Reaction was quick to come. During a Senate hearing, long- time hydrogen supporter Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) vowed to block the cut, saying that he was “stunned” that Chu was zeroing out hydrogen programs. Dorgan told Chu that, “We are going to do everything we can to continue the programs.”

Car companies also responded. Honda, Toyota, and GM, all of whom have strong, self-funded fuel cell vehicle programs, announced that they would continue their development. At the recent National Hydrogen Association meeting, I had the experience of driving Honda’s latest fuel cell car, the Clarity. In my opinion, it’s the best car ever built–powerful, quiet, very efficient, and good looking. I think people will line up to buy cars like the Clarity, once the infrastructure is in place and the price comes down.

Chu is right that developing plug-in hybrids and electric cars is a good idea. But eliminating funding for fuel cell vehicles is wrongheaded. My colleague Joan Ogden said it well, “There are uncertainties with both these technologies (batteries and fuel cells), so taking one off the table seems shortsighted.”

While the fur flies in Washington, we continue working hard. In our lead article, Colin Sheppard describes the exciting RESCO project that will begin shortly. We’ll be developing a renewable energy action plan for Humboldt County. James Apple provides an update on the biomass gasification project.  And summer interns Garren Sparks and Matt Bray describe their work to provide solar power to a BLM cabin in the remote King Range along California’s Lost Coast.

Best wishes to all for an enjoyable summer. I hope you capture some solar energy during those long summer days.

About Peter Lehman

Director of SERC and a professor of Environmental Resources Engineering at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. Dr. Lehman received a B.S. in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago. He then served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley where he conducted research on the aerochemistry of photochemical air pollution. Before coming to HSU, he has been a member of the faculties of Sacramento State University; California State University, Northridge; and Deep Springs College. While at HSU, Dr. Lehman has served as chair of the Environmental Resources Engineering Department, co-chair of the International Development Technology masters program, and faculty advisor to the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. His research interests include renewable energy systems, especially solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies. Dr. Lehman's work at the Schatz Center includes the development of solar hydrogen generation systems, development and production of fuel cell personal utility and neighborhood electric vehicles, and research and production of proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Most recently, the Center is involved in integrating electrolyzers into complete hydrogen generation and dispensing facilities, and developing and producing fuel cell systems for telecommunications, portable power and uninterruptible power supply applications.