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SCIENCE REPORT — February 7, 2002: Fuel Cell Cars - 2002-02-06

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

The United States Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham, has announced a program to develop a new kind of engine to power cars in the future. Mister Abraham calls the new program the “Freedom Car.” The cars will use energy from chemical fuel cells.

Fuel cell technology uses hydrogen to create electricity. Hydrogen gas is passed over a metal like platinum. The electrons from the hydrogen separate to form electricity. The remaining part of the atom, the proton, combines with oxygen to form water. Fuel cells create very clean energy with no pollution.

However, they need to be very large to create enough electricity to power a vehicle. A company called Fuel Cell Energy has proposed a fuel cell that also uses a coal-powered device to create power. But this device is very large and costly.

Experts believe that fuel cell energy will some day provide power for small devices like cellular telephones and computers. Peter Hoffman is editor and publisher of the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Letter. He supports developing fuel cell energy technology. However, he estimates that a fuel cell car could cost between seventy-five-thousand and one-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars.

In Nineteen-Ninety-Three, the Clinton administration began a program to develop cars that use about three times less fuel than current cars. The government was to spend one-thousand-five-hundred-million dollars on research. However, the Bush administration has decided not to continue that effort. Instead, it will support the program to develop cars that are powered by fuel cells.

Other kinds of cars that use less fuel are currently being sold in the United States. The Japanese car company Toyota makes the Prius. The Prius is called a hybrid car because it uses both electricity and gas to run its engine. It uses less gas and produces less pollution than normal cars. Toyota has sold twenty-thousand of these cars in the United States. This new hybrid car has become very popular. Every Prius made has been sold. In fact, there are not enough of these cars being made for all the people who want them.

Cars with fuel cells would create even less pollution than hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius. However, experts say cell cars will not be ready to be sold for ten to twenty years.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Mario Ritter.