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US govt announces boost for hydrogen fuel-cells

May 12, 2003

DETROIT — General Motors Corp. plans to announce Wednesday that it will run one of its fuel-cell-powered vehicles through a 6,200-mile European marathon starting Monday.

The long-distance journey – featuring a HydroGen 3 fuel-cell prototype inside an Opel Zafira minivan – will cover 14 countries beginning in Hammerfest, at the northern tip of Norway, and ending June 11 in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.

The project is part publicity stunt, part trial. "We are talking about driving this vehicle over 6,000 miles across temperature and elevation extremes," said Julie Beamer, GM's director of fuel-cell commercialization.

The route will expose the Zafira to extremes of temperatures in the Alps, testing its reliability in cold weather.

The move follows Tuesday's announcement that the federal government is to give a 350 million-dollar shot in the arm to hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles in the form of research grants.

The private sector is expected to ante up another $225 million over the next five years, bringing the total amount to $575 million.

"The 575 million is just a down payment on new energy initiatives," said US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham at a press conference in Detroit. "This is to show that hydrogen is not something that is just abstract, but something that is real."

Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG both used the event to announce new initiatives to put at least 67 fuel-cell cars on US roads by the end of the year. DaimlerChrysler said it wants to add 37 fuel-cell cars to US fleets as soon as this summer.

The federal funds represent nearly one-third of 1.2 billion dollars that US President George W. Bush pledged for hydrogen research during his 2002 State of the Union address.

During the address, Bush said he wanted to use hydrogen fuel to reverse America's growing dependence on foreign oil by developing the technology for commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells to power cars, trucks, homes and businesses with no pollution or greenhouse gases. –Sapa-AFP

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