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Thursday, April 24, 2003

State Targets Hydrogen Boom

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer
    There is a growing sense of urgency among New Mexico's leaders that the state needs to propel itself and its economy into the future of hydrogen fuel cells or it is going to be left in the dust.
    "If we are not in this game by the end of this year, other states will be taking leadership roles that are rightfully ours," said Rick Homans, the state's secretary of economic development. "We've got everything in place right now to move ... and we need to move in a bold way, too. If we are going to be a leader, we need to think big."
    Big ideas are exactly what Homans and Gov. Bill Richardson were hoping would come out of Santa Fe's workshop Wednesday on hydrogen fuel cell technology, which has the potential of being a renewable energy source whose only emission is water vapor.
    The intent of the workshop was to pull together leading industry, research and business leaders from around the state and across the nation to generate ideas on how to get hydrogen technology rolling and, more importantly, how to do it in New Mexico.
    Workshop members brainstormed on key economic and technical issues ranging from possible incentives and barriers to developing a hydrogen-based economy in the state to the importance of having a strong state educational system to feed the need for future hydrogen energy technicians.
    "Those ideas will be a framework for strategic steps to move forward, and we need to flesh that out very quickly so we have specific goals for three months, for one year and more general goals for five years out," Homans said.
    He pointed out that Motorola already has plans to have hydrogen fuel cell-powered cell phones on the market by 2005 or 2006.
    "There are a handful of companies here in New Mexico right now that are in the fuel cell business, and we want to talk directly to those companies to see if there is an opportunity for the state to invest," Homans said. "They have to be prudent, responsible investments, but if we are saying this is the big industry of the future and this is a big opportunity for New Mexico, then we ought to invest on the ground floor."
    Byron McCormick, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist who is now executive director of fuel cell research at General Motors, said GM is looking to have hydrogen-powered cars in people's driveways within the next decade.
    A prototype GM hydrogen car, called AUTOnomy, which has about a 250-mile range per fueling, was parked in La Posada's parking lot during the workshop.
    McCormick said it makes sense for New Mexico to take a leading role in developing hydrogen fuel cell technologies since the state is the birthplace of many of the technologies that make hydrogen a feasible energy source.
    "New Mexico is extremely well-positioned to be a part of this future" with its scientific expertise at LANL and Sandia National Laboratories, its committed leadership in Gov. Richardson and highly influential senators in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which funds much hydrogen research, he said.
    LANL, which McCormick said is positioning itself to be the national center for hydrogen fuel cell research, could be the testing ground for new hydrogen technologies that are too risky or too expensive for private industry to explore.
    Recognizing the potential for synergy, the state and LANL have solidified their informal working relationship by borrowing Ken Freese, LANL's manager of its strategic partnerships program, to run the state's hydrogen initiative, HyTep, which is an alliance between industry, government, researchers and business leaders in the state.