DOE projects the demand for oil in the U.S. to increase by nearly 50% by 2025. Petroleum imports already supply more than 55% of U.S. domestic needs, and those imports are projected to increase to more than 68% by 2025. This dilemma has driven the U.S. hydrogen fuel initiative aimed at reversing America's growing dependence on foreign oil by developing the technology for commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells to power cars and trucks, as well as homes and businesses with no pollution or greenhouse gases. Funding for the hydrogen fuel initiative over the next 5 years is targeted at $1.7 billion to develop the technologies and infrastructure to produce, store, and distribute hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles and electricity generation.

As one might expect, the projected success of and the estimated time to reach commercialization of hydrogen as the primary fuel source varies considerably.

In March of this year, DOE released its "Hydrogen Posture Plan," a document outlining plans to support America's shift to a hydrogen-based transportation energy system, leading up to a commercialization decision by industry in 2015 and mass-market availability by 2020. Others are even more optimistic. For example, Ford Motor Co. estimates that fuel cell commercialization may be only 10 years away (see p 16 in this issue).

Others with opposing views see these goals as unrealistic. For example, a National Academy of Sciences panel recently said hydrogen will not likely provide much energy relief for America during the next 25 years-a transition to cost-effective fuel-cell cars might take until 2030 or longer. Shell estimates that adding hydrogen to its 44,000 existing filling stations by 2020 would cost $19 billion, and GM Corp. estimates a similar cost ($10-15 billion) to build 12,000 hydrogen filling stations.

DOE will coordinate a multifaceted technology development effort to help resolve the dilemma associated with the development of a commercially viable hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle; that is, which comes first, the vehicle or the infrastructure of manufacturing plants, distribution and storage networks, and the convenient service stations needed to support it. The government plans to work with all stakeholders to develop both the vehicle and the infrastructure in parallel to advance a commercialization decision by 15 years, from 2030 to 2015.

DOE's mission is to assist in developing and demonstrating technologies for producing, storing, and delivering hydrogen in an efficient, clean, safe, reliable and affordable manner. If mid-term research is successful, the Federal government will adopt the technology, enacting policies that will nurture the development of an industry capable of delivering significant quantities of hydrogen to the market. Industry's role will become increasingly dominant in the mid to late stages.

Probably everybody agrees that having an unlimited source of clean fuel to power our automobiles for generations to come is a good thing. The question is: When can we expect to "fill'er up" with H2? It seems the sooner the better.