- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

FREEPORT, Texas — U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham joined Texas Gov. Rick Perry in “throwing the switch” for the largest fuel cell transaction between Dow Chemical Co. and General Motors Corp. to date. This is the first time a carmaker has used its fuel cell technology to provide electricity for manufacturing.

Dow and GM began the Phase 1 installation operations of a single fuel cell that will convert hydrogen into electricity. This initial step will convert hydrogen into 75 kilowatts of electricity, or enough power for 60 homes for one year. Ultimately, fuel cells from GM could generate 35 megawatts of power from hydrogen for Dow, equivalent to power for 25,000 homes.

Fuel cells development for transportation is big news, as carmakers, environmentalists and government look forward to renewable energy rather than fossil fuel for power. Several areas of the country want to lead the way including California. Plans for a “hydrogen highway” that will enable a hydrogen refueling infrastructure no more than 20 miles apart throughout the “Golden State” is in the planning stages.

“Texas, long known as the nation’s largest energy producer, also wants to be known as the nation’s leading energy innovator,” Mr. Perry said. “Now Texas is at the forefront of the development of fuel cell technology which is a cleaner, greener source of energy that has the potential to transform how we power our homes, offices and automobiles.”

General Motors has been a longtime customer of Dow Chemical, buying materials for automobile production. All major car companies are very involved in fuel cell development including GM. In discussions with Dow, it was noted that hydrogen is a natural by-product of chemical manufacturing.

Dow currently uses its excess hydrogen as fuel for boilers and also sells hydrogen to industrial gas companies for resale to their customers.

Flowing hydrogen through a fuel cell to generate electricity is even more efficient and economically desirable than either of these applications. By efficiently consuming by-product hydrogen in a fuel cell, Dow will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and create competitively priced electricity.

The 5,000-acre site is the largest Dow facility in the world and its vast need for energy is vital to the profitability of the company. When this seven-year partnership with GM is complete the hydrogen fuel cell experiment will amount to only 2 percent of the energy needs of this site, which illustrates the amount of energy Dow needs to operate this complex.

This partnership has practical benefits for General Motors as well. As all phases come on stream, the total energy produced will be the equivalent of putting a fleet of more than 400 fuel cell cars in one location. Larry Burns, GM’s vice president of research and development and planning, says “fuel cells are 10 times too expensive for cars now and have yet to prove to be as durable as conventional engines.”

“This transaction will help reduce the cost and improve the durability of GM’s fuel cells and will accelerate the date for when fuel cells will be ready for mass application in vehicles,” he said. The largest fleet of fuel cell vehicles operating year round currently numbers six, and that happens to be GM’s fleet in Washington, D.C.

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