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Public Roads - May/Jun 2009

May/Jun 2009
Issue No:
Vol. 72 No. 6
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Internet Watch

The Hydrogen Fuel Initiative And Road Tour 2008

by Scott Mitchell

One of the greatest challenges facing the United States in the coming decades is achieving energy independence. Record high oil prices rocked the U.S. economy in 2008. To reduce the Nation's reliance on oil imports and minimize economic vulnerability to disruptions in the supply, researchers are focusing on producing alternative fuels domestically. For several years, the Federal Government has been working to help develop new hydrogen technologies as part of a balanced energy plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil and limit greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen and fuel cells are two technologies that address these national energy challenges, and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is calling attention to them through a vehicle tour and a new Web site.

Road Tour 2008

In summer 2008, USDOT and its partners made history by driving hydrogen-powered vehicles across the United States. From August 11-23, the Hydrogen Road Tour made 31 stops in 18 States from Maine to California. The Federal Government, State governments, and private industry entities organized the tour to demonstrate hydrogen fuel cell and combustion engine vehicles in real-world driving conditions. The tour also aimed to introduce the public to the capability, range, durability, reliability, and cost that U.S. consumers might expect from hydrogen-powered vehicles.

At most stops, members of the media, invited guests, and the public had an opportunity to see these cuttingedge vehicles up close and to discuss the technologies with experts on hand. In addition, the public was given an unprecedented opportunity to get behind the wheel and drive a hydrogen-powered vehicle. Existing and mobile refueling stations offered opportunities for the motorists to see how to refuel these vehicles with hydrogen.

The tour attracted more than 6,500 attendees and 1,654 citizen test-drivers. In addition, more than 8.6 million viewers learned about the tour and hydrogenpowered vehicles on local television.

For USDOT, this effort represents a key step toward making alternative fuel sources a reality. "The technology necessary to put these cars on the road and keep them moving exists today," says Administrator Paul Brubaker of the USDOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA). "The question is not if hydrogen powered vehicles will be available commercially, but when."

One main goal of the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative is to help create a national market demand for alternatively powered vehicles. Along with its partners, USDOT is working to ensure that hydrogen transportation technologies are safe, to define design standards for future hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure, to accelerate technology transfer, and to increase public understanding of hydrogen-powered transportation.

For a map of the cities visited, as well as tour details and highlights, visit

Stay Informed Through the Hydrogen Portal

As the Nation moves toward energy independence, USDOT recognizes that developing alternative fuel solutions is a long-term effort. According to the National Research Council's (NRC) Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies—A Focus on Hydrogen, significant deployment of hydrogen vehicles most likely will not happen before 2015. NRC asserts that a $200 billion investment is needed between 2008 and 2023 to make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles cost competitive with conventional vehicles. Costly new fuel stations and other distribution infrastructure, such as hydrogen pipelines, will be needed to make deployment a reality.

In the meantime, USDOT's Hydrogen Portal at provides an online home for the latest information about these technologies. The Web site includes a roadmap document that outlines the roles and activities of each modal agency within the Department, highlights current and planned USDOT activities supporting the national hydrogen initiative, and discusses anticipated paths and timeframes for deploying hydrogen infrastructure. The portal also contains information about safety, codes, and standards; hydrogenrelated projects across USDOT; and upcoming events.

As the Nation enters a new era defined by energy independence, USDOT will continue exploring and fostering technologies that promise improved energy efficiency and environmental protection.

This map highlights the stops along the 2008 Hydrogen Road Tour, starting in Portland, ME, and ending in Los Angeles, CA.


Scott Mitchell is an information technology specialist in the RITA Office of the Chief Information Officer.