November 5, 2012

High-efficiency auto standards benefit Connecticut, region

Joel M. Rinebold

The Obama Administration recently announced a 54.5-mile-per-gallon efficiency standard for automotive vehicles by 2025. The obvious impact of this standard will be to reduce dependency on foreign-supplied oil and the nation's trade balance with countries in the Middle East. Additional impacts will likely include reduced financial exposure for U.S. businesses and consumers, cleaner emissions, and increased use of domestically produced fuels that will not lead to a trade imbalance.

With the price of gasoline now around $4 per gallon, and making headway for $5 per gallon, this standard will be welcomed to provide long-term reliability and stability for transportation, trade, and cleaner air.

But there is another value stream to this efficiency standard – a transition to increase innovation, develop new technology, and retool a manufacturing supply chain that will strengthen economic growth through "green job" creation and the export of finished alternative fuel technology products to global markets.

Indeed there will be competition for this market, and it will be global, but the U.S. and particularly the Northeast U.S. will be well positioned to participate and assume a leadership position. Currently, the Northeast region's hydrogen and fuel cell supply chain of 1,179 companies has revenues of approximately $1.18 billion and provides 5,770 jobs. Connecticut's 600 companies alone generate over $600 million in revenue and provide almost 2,700 jobs. This means that every dollar invested to achieve this efficiency standard with alternative fuels and alternative fueled vehicle technology will provide environmental value, increased energy reliability, and an economic dividend with a domestic cash flow for the US economy, a cash flow that will assist the US economic recovery.

Connecticut and the Northeast Region may be positioned in the center of this alternative fuel and vehicle manufacturing cluster with ultra clean, domestically fueled, and high efficiency vehicles that will meet and exceed the 54.5-mile-per-gallon standard. Companies such as UTC Power, Proton OnSite, FuelCell Energy and Precision Combustion are all at the top of the supply chain to design, develop, and manufacture alternative hydrogen fuel cells, fuel processors, and hydrogen production equipment. Regional companies include Plug Power, Watt Fuel Cell, and Delphi Motors in New York; and Giner, Liliputian, Acumentrics, and Nuvera in Massachusetts.

The economic impact of this collective hydrogen fuel cell industry is expected to be long term with strong engagement from markets in Asia and Europe. The demand is based on the same drivers of the U.S. standard: lower cost, reduced use of imported oil, higher efficiency, and cleaner emissions. Our hydrogen fuel cell industry will be able to meet these needs and also provide long range driving with convenient and safe refueling, comparable to gasoline refueling.

Matt Fronk, formerly with General Motors and one of the key authors of the New York Hydrogen Roadmap, said "Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles revolutionize transportation. As oil becomes cost prohibitive, domestic production of hydrogen will take over as the passenger vehicle of choice."

John Harrity of GrowJobs CT agreed that "Our industry has an opportunity serve a global market demanding cleaner, efficient and affordable transportation. We have the most skilled workforce in the world to design this technology and manufacture the finished products. We have earned the right to be the world leaders."

A Connecticut Hydrogen Transportation Plan developed by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) for the Connecticut Department of Transportation is now being integrated into a regional plan to provide strategic direction for hydrogen refueling and deployment of vehicles from Maine to New Jersey. Other regions, including California, South Carolina, and Ohio, are also actively engaged in planning.

With assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, CCAT, and other states, there is an opportunity for the deployment of over 100,000 vehicles in the U.S. by 2035 with the Northeast in a leadership position.

Elliot Ginsberg of CCAT agreed that Connecticut and the Northeast are well positioned, "The technical supply chain has been key to meeting this challenge. CCAT will continue to support this advancement with planning initiatives, workforce training, education, technical modeling and simulation, and collaborative administration. This is what we do, job creation through advanced technology."

On Nov. 6 through 8, the international hydrogen fuel cell industry will assemble in Connecticut to discuss its collective strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Governor Malloy, U.S. Sen. Blumenthal, and US Congressman Larson will be there to participate and encourage success. This may be one of our big global manufacturing opportunities for the decade and beyond; let's hope we use this opportunity wisely. g

-Joel M. Rinebold is director of energy initiatives at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology in East Hartford, and the founder and administrator of the Connecticut Hydrogen Fuel Cell Coalition and the Northeast Electrochemical Energy Storage Cluster.

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