Hydrogen compression tankEnlarge Photo
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $2.4 billion in grants to automakers, start-ups, universities, and other outfits to facilitate the production of battery-powered electric vehicles. (That came on top of $10 billion worth of low-interest loans doled out to Ford, Nissan, and Tesla back in June.) Now, the DOE has announced a new, significantly less-well-funded competition centered around the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
In calling its competition the H-Prize, the DOE borrows a page from the much-ballyhooed X-Prize program, which has, among other things, fueled innovators like Tesla CEO and sometime media darling Elon Musk to develop new means of space travel. But whereas the X-Prize offers big bucks for breakthroughs in its chosen fields, the DOE has only put up $1 million, and sadly, $1 million ain't what it used to be. We'll see who takes part.
The goal of the H-Prize competition is to encourage development of high-tech storage materials for the pressurized hydrogen required to power fuel-cell vehicles. The size of those storage containers and the cost of compressing the hydrogen to go in them are two of the larger obstacles standing between auto manufacturers and widespread deployment of fuel-cell vehicles. Money for the prize and for administration of the program comes from the feds -- presumably those funds for fuel cell development that DOE chief Steven Chu wasn't interested in, but which have been forced down his agency's throat anyway.
Beyond that, there aren't many details to report about the program. (The official website, hydrogenprize.org is still being tweaked.) Award winners should be announced in 2011.