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U.S.&E.U./ U.S., Europe differ on hydrogen's future

Monday, June 16, 2003

Roles of nuclear power, fossil fuels complicate energy conference talks

By H. Josef Hebert / Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration wants to enlist European support for an international partnership to develop hydrogen energy, but differences over fossil fuels and nuclear power are complicating the talks.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who will outline the administration's hydrogen policy at a conference today in Belgium, planned to emphasize that the United States is committed to developing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. But the United States also is determined to find ways to build pollution-free coal-burning plants and use nuclear reactors to produce hydrogen.

The Europeans will hear that the United States is looking at all these options and that half of the research money into hydrogen sources, part of a $1.7 billion program proposed by President Bush, involves renewables.

But some European leaders believe the administration is far less committed than Europe to research into renewable energy, which they want to make the cornerstone of a hydrogen energy economy.

The vision held by both the Europeans and Americans is for hydrogen fuel cells to replace polluting coal-burning power plants and to end the need for gasoline and pollution-spewing automobiles. Fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen to produce power, with only water as a byproduct.

For a truly pollution-free system, environmentalists argue, the hydrogen must come from a source that does not pollute. They contend that a push for renewable energy technology such as wind and solar power -- and not fossil fuels -- is the answer.

Many Europeans have embraced the argument.

The European Union, for example, has committed to a benchmark of having 22 percent of its electricity and 12 percent of its energy come from renewables by 2010. The Bush administration has resisted any such commitments for domestic utilities.

Some of the Europeans fear that an international research effort, following the U.S. lead, might give short shrift to research into renewable energy sources, says Jeremy Rifkin, an adviser to EU leaders on the hydrogen issues.

He has characterized the administration's hydrogen initiative as "a Trojan horse" for the nuclear and fossil fuel industries.

Hydrogen energy

Hydrogen, one of the most common elements on Earth, can be derived from many sources:

* Today, it is commonly extracted from natural gas, or methane.

* It also can be made from electricity generated by a coal-burning power plant or a nuclear reactor. The electricity, in a process known as electrolysis, splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen then can be stored and later used in a fuel cell, where it reacts with oxygen to produce energy; again, water is the only byproduct.

Source: Associated Press

(Photo)Associated Press
U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham will tell European leaders that half of the money devoted to hydrogen research involves renewable energy.

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