12 January 2002

The US Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and executives of Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler have announced a new cooperative automotive research partnership between the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Council for Automotive Research (USCAR). The new public-private partnership, geared towards developing a hydrogen fueled vehicle of the future, will focus on the research needed to develop technologies such as fuel cells and hydrogen from domestic renewable sources.

“Under this new program, which we call Freedom CAR, the government and the private sector will fund research into advanced, efficient fuel cell technology, which uses hydrogen to power automobiles without creating any pollution. The long-term results of this cooperative effort will be cars and trucks that are more efficient, cheaper to operate, pollution-free and competitive in the showroom. This plan is rooted in President Bush’s call, issued last May in our National Energy Plan, to reduce American reliance on foreign oil through a balance of new domestic energy production and new technology to promote greater energy efficiency,” Abraham said.

Altering the overall US petroleum consumption pattern will require a multi-tiered approach, including policy and research programs, said the DOE. Freedom CAR’s (CAR stands for Cooperative Automotive Research) long-term goal is to develop technologies for hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles that will require no foreign oil and emit no harmful pollutants or greenhouse gases. Freedom CAR will focus on technologies to enable mass production of affordable hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles and the hydrogen-supply infrastructure to support them.

At the same time, the DOE retired the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) program. The original PNGV objective was to develop an affordable, 80 mpg (2.94 l/100 km) family sedan by 2004. The National Research Council concluded in a recent PNGV review that the program was not likely to reach its goal. The government PNGV spending amounted to $814 million, while the industry—General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler—spent over $980 million.

In what appears to be a lack of coordination between different branches of the US government, emissions became a big stumbling block contributing to the failure of PNGV. The PNGV engineering emission objectives had been set at 0.16 g/mi NOx and 0.027 g/mi PM, while the EPA’s Tier 2 emission standards require a fleet average NOx limit of 0.07 g/mi and 0.2 g/mi NOx and 0.02 g/mi PM emission limits in the most relaxed permanent certification bin 8. In order to be commercially viable, vehicles would likely need to be certified at least in the bin 5 of 0.07 g/mi NOx and 0.01 g/mi PM. In effect, the PNGV research was developing vehicles that would not meet emission standards that come to power in 2004.

If successful, fuel cell vehicles are likely to require at least 10-20 years of development before reaching the market. The DOE has not expressed its position in regards to energy efficient light-duty vehicles in the short term, other than issuing a vague statement that Freedom CAR would continue support for petroleum-dependent technologies that have the potential to “dramatically reduce oil consumption and environmental impacts”.

No numerical targets for energy efficiency or emissions of the Freedom CAR have been announced. A formal partnership agreement is expected within the next few months.

Source: US DOE