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ENVIRONMENT REPORT – February 14, 2003: Freedom Fuel Proposal - 2003-02-13

This is the VOA Special English Environment Report.

President Bush has offered a plan to speed development of technology that uses hydrogen as fuel. His goal is increased production of vehicles, homes and businesses powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Mister Bush says he hopes that children born this year will drive hydrogen-powered cars in the future. He says his plan would reduce pollution and America’s dependence on oil from other countries. Yet experts say the plan would be successful only if major cost and technology problems can be solved.

The President announced the plan in his State of the Union message in January. He wants Congress to approve more than one-thousand-million dollars for the program. That would include money to develop the systems needed to make, store and transport hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles and electric power production.

Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Hydrogen is a colorless gas. On Earth, it is present in large amounts in natural gas, coal, plants and water. By weight, hydrogen produces the highest energy levels of any known fuel. When burned in an engine, hydrogen releases no harmful pollution into the environment. When powering a fuel cell, the only waste is water. However, hydrogen is difficult to store. It also burns easily.

The American space agency has used fuel cells to produce electricity since the nineteen-sixties. More recently, some automobile makers have tested hydrogen-powered vehicles. However, hydrogen is four times as costly to produce as gasoline, the fuel commonly used in cars and trucks. In addition, fuel cells are now ten times more costly than traditional gasoline-burning engines.

The President’s plan seeks to lower that cost enough to make fuel cell cars cost almost the same as gasoline-powered vehicles by two-thousand-ten. The plan also would support methods to produce hydrogen from renewable energy, nuclear energy and coal.

Fuel cell research and development businesses welcomed the President’s proposal. Environmental groups also have praised the plan. They say hydrogen technology can reduce industrial gases linked to global warming. However, some critics say the plan is a way to avoid criticism over Bush administration policies designed to support oil production.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by George Grow.