(CNSNews.com) - The Energy Department has $9 million more taxpayer dollars to spend on projects that may make a very expensive car less expensive and more acceptable to consumers.
The latest round of funding is intended to accelerate the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, backup power systems, and hydrogen refueling stations.
"These investments will strengthen U.S. leadership in cost-effective hydrogen and fuel cell technologies and help industry bring these technologies into the marketplace at lower cost," the news release said.
The cost of making a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car has plummeted, USA Today reported last month. Vehicles that cost around $1 million in past years now cost about $140,000 to produce, and Toyota said it expects the cost to be around $50,000 three years from now, when it plans to begin selling its models in the U.S.
Ironically, the Energy Department credits cheaper fossil fuel with reducing the cost of producing hydrogen fuel cells:
"Recent development of the United States’ tremendous shale gas resources has not only helped directly cut electricity and transportation costs for consumers and businesses, but is also helping to reduce the costs of producing hydrogen and operating hydrogen fuel cells," the Energy Department said.
Hydrogen vehicles emit only heat and water as byproducts. But it takes energy to produce hydrogen, and if that energy does not come from renewable sources, then fuel-cell cars are not as green as they seem, Business Insider reported in May.
The projects selected for the new round of funding will "demonstrate, deploy, and validate" hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in real-world environments.
The funding announcement, aimed at industry, academia, and national labs, comes four weeks after the Energy Department announced a new public-private partnership to "deploy hydrogen infrastructure."
Called H2USA, the new partnership brings together automakers, government agencies, gas suppliers, and the hydrogen and fuel cell industries to coordinate research and identify cost-effective solutions to deploy infrastructure that can deliver hydrogen fuel in the United States.
Current members of the H2USA partnership include the American Gas Association, Association of Global Automakers, the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the Electric Drive Transportation Association, the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, Hyundai Motor America, ITM Power, Massachusetts Hydrogen Coalition, Mercedes-Benz USA, Nissan North America Research and Development, Proton OnSite, Toyota Motor North America, and Honda.
The push to develop hydrogen fuel vehicles began under President George W. Bush and has accelerated under President Obama.
Major barriers to mass production include the high cost of production and a lack of infrastructure to support the vehicles.
There also are safety concerns about the possibility of hydrogen leaks stemming from crashes or refueling. Hydrogen gas is extremely flammable.
In 2008, Honda began leasing its FCX Clarity Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) to selected customers in California, where a few hydrogen fueling stations and service centers are located.
Honda says its FCX Clarity has a driving range of approximately 240 miles.