Feb 21, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Today the President essentially moderated a panel of NREL staff people and others working on related problems. He said "we're close" to getting PHEVs and he heard from GM's point person on hydrogen and from an NREL staffer how far away we are from fuel cell cars. The excerpts below don't include slightly modified versions of statement in speech. (When you read the following, you may be tempted to say, "so what" -- until you remember who's saying it!) Full text at URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/02/20060221.html President Participates in Energy Conservation & Efficiency Panel National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colorado February 21, 2006 9:19 A.M. MST
THE PRESIDENT: Congress wisely increased the tax credit available to those who purchase hybrid vehicles. In other words, we're trying to increase demand for hybrid vehicles. You can get up to a $3,400 tax credit now if you buy a hybrid vehicle.
The new technological breakthrough, however, is going to be when we develop batteries that are able to enable an automobile to drive, say, the first 40 miles on electricity alone.
The ideas is to have an automobile, say, that can drive 40 miles on the battery, as I mentioned. But if you're living in a big city, that's probably all you're going to need for that day's driving. And then you can get home and plug your car right into the outlet in your house. This is coming. I mean, we're close to this. It's going to require more research dollars. The budget I submitted to the Congress does have money in it for this type of research for new types of batteries. But I want the people to know we're close. The hybrid vehicles you're buying today are an important part of making sure you save money when it comes to driving. But they're going to change with the right research and development. Technology will make it so that the hybrid vehicles are even better in getting us less addicted on oil, and making it good for the consumer's pocketbook.
And as our fellow citizens begin to think to whether or not it makes sense to spend research, imagine -- dollars on this technology, imagine people in the desert being able to grow switch grasses that they can then convert into energy for ethanol for the cars that they're driving there in Arizona. All of a sudden the whole equation about energy production begins to shift dramatically. And we're going to hear a lot about cellulostic ethanol.
THE PRESIDENT: See, what's changed is the global supply for fossil fuels is outstripping the -- the global demand is outstripping the global supply, and so you're seeing a price of the feedstock of normal energy going up, and technology driving the price of alternatives down. And that's why this is a really interesting moment that we're going to see. It has changed a lot of thinking. The price of natural gas and the price of crude oil has absolutely made these competitive alternative sources of energy real. And the question is, do we have the technological breakthroughs to make it such that it can get to your gas tanks.
THE PRESIDENT: Larry Burns, why don't you explain to folks what you do for a living.
MR. BURNS: I'm responsible for research and development and strategic planning for General Motors. And I've been doing that, working for General Motors for 37 years, actually.
THE PRESIDENT: We're spending $1.2 billion over a five-year period on -- or 10-year period for hydrogen research. I would warn folks that I think the hybrid battery and the ethanol technologies will precede hydrogen. Hydrogen is a longer-term opportunity. It's going to take a while for hydrogen automobiles to develop, plus the infrastructure necessary to make sure people can actually have convenience when it comes to filling up your car with hydrogen. But, nevertheless, I'm pleased to hear that GM is joining the federal government on the leading edge of technological change.
MR. BURNS: The important part about that battery, too, is it's a stepping stone to the fuel-cell vehicle. We imagine our fuel-cell vehicles will have some form of storing energy, because as your car slows down, you want to capture that energy and store it. So it's not like we're making one investment here that doesn't help another one. They all come together -- the ethanol, the batteries and the fuel cells are really one and the same road map to get to the future that offers a lot of alternatives for our nation.
THE PRESIDENT: Bill Frey, straight out of Delaware, is that right?
MR. FREY: People have mentioned bio-refinery -- I think probably everyone so far has mentioned bio-refinery -- and we're working very closely with NREL -- NREL, of course, has had a number of years of being in the space looking at renewable energy, doing a lot of the foundation work that allows us to now look at how we're going to commercialize cellulosics. So we're doing a lot of work in the area of bio-refinery with NREL, looking at how we can take a process which, today, has challenges associated with the economics of doing it, so it's an issue of economics. It's not a technology issue, the technology works. It's the economics of that technology. So we're spending a lot of time on trying to solve those problems.
THE PRESIDENT: Welcome. Dale, step forth. (Laughter.) [RE HYDROGEN]
MR. GARDNER: So here's what we're doing. The major technological challenges -- I can boil them up into three areas. There are many, but here is a good way to think about it. The first is production of hydrogen. Hydrogen, even though it's the most common element in the universe, here on Earth it's not found freely. It's bound up into these larger molecules and, therefore, it takes us energy and dollars to break it free. So that's the main thing.
MR. GARDNER: The second area is storage. This is really an interesting one. Because hydrogen is the simplest element, it has the complexity that affects us in terms of using hydrogen in vehicles. We have to go put hydrogen in a tank, just as we do gasoline. Well, because it's so light, and its density is so low, it's really hard to pack enough of it into a tack that's not the size of your whole trunk, such that we can get 300 miles down the road. And for Larry to sell a car to one of us, we want to go at least 300 miles more, especially when you're driving in Texas, a long way between filling stations. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: So you've been looking at this for three years. Is this like science fiction, or are we talking about something that you think will come to fruition?
MR. GARDNER: This is going to happen.
THE PRESIDENT: Pretty exciting, isn't it?
MR. GARDNER: It's going to be out in the middle of the century. It's not going to be something that's going to happen in the next 15 or 20 years, but it's going to be the way our kids and our grandkids view the energy structure of our country. It's very exciting work.
THE PRESIDENT: Finally, Pat Vincent, the President and CEO of --
MS. VINCENT: Public Service Company of Colorado.
THE PRESIDENT: So like when you analyze the wind turbine technology, is it advancing rapidly? Is there more advances being made -- or am I getting you out of your lane here?
MS. VINCENT: No, it's advancing rapidly. And what we're finding is like Dan talked about, the demand for solar, is that the demand for the turbines is starting to outstrip the supply. And a lot of it's going overseas. The production tax credit really helps us here because it kind of goes in boom and bust cycles, so that has really helped us levelize the demand and make them commercially feasible. And people like GE are making big strides in wind technology.
THE PRESIDENT: By the way, this may interest you if you are -- these people manufacturing photovoltaic products can't make enough. I mean, the demand for these things is huge. And there's just not enough capacity. The plant we were at yesterday is going to double in size. They're making neat roofing materials, by the way. I'm not their marketing guy -- (laughter) -- just happens to be on my mind. What's interesting about the discussion is the utility industry needs alternative sources of energy in order for them to be able to do their job. I think that's what you're saying.
THE PRESIDENT: Managing peak electricity loads with alternative sources of energy makes a lot of sense.
THE PRESIDENT: So that's why we're here, to talk about a variety of options to achieve a great national goal. And there's no doubt in my mind we're going to achieve it. And it's exciting. It's exciting times to be involved with all aspects of this strategy. And you heard some of our fellow citizens describe to you what they're doing to be a part of this giant effort, giant effort to change the way we live, so that future generations of Americans will look back at this period and say, thank goodness there was yet another generation of pioneers and entrepreneurs willing to think differently on behalf of the country.