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Legislators explore fuel cell technology as alternative to fossil fuels

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“There are challenges and advantages to this technology,
“There are challenges and advantages to this technology," State Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker said Thursday. - ()

With an eye toward economic growth and environmental preservation, New Jersey lawmakers heard testimony Thursday on hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in motor vehicles.

State Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-16th District, said he is looking to harness fuel cell technology to drive the economy, while fellow Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-37th District, said he supports hydrogen fuel-cell technology. The two chaired a hearing of the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee and Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

“It takes energy to split water. If you run it in the other direction, it produces energy,” Zwicker said. “There are challenges and advantages to this technology.”

Johnson wants New Jersey to invest in fuel cell technology and thus reduce the emitting pollutants that harm people and the environment.

From left, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson listen to testimony.
From left, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson listen to testimony. - ()

“I think the future is today,” Johnson said. “Fuel cells are some of the most cutting-edge technology we have. Though it is futuristic, it has been around for decades.

Andrew Bocarsly, professor of chemistry at Princeton University, described fuel cells as being equivalent to a battery; they are renewable, unlike fossil fuels such as oil.

“Most hydrogen in the United States comes from fossil fuel sources,” Bocarsly said. “This committee could provide funding to build infrastructure to generate hydrogen from a non-fossil fuel source.”

To tap into this possibility, New Jersey needs highly trained scientists, Bocarsly said. Princeton used to benefit from federal funding toward this purpose, he said.

Jay Benziger, also of Princeton University, said fuel cells are a source of clean power with the potential to reduce carbon emissions.

“You can further develop fuel cells with cars,” Benziger said.

Carmakers Honda and Toyota brought hydrogen-powered vehicles to the capital building in Trenton for committee members to test-drive after the hearing. Honda and Toyota are working to see if developing a hydrogen car can be done in conjunction with electric vehicles.

Representatives from Honda and Toyota, in addition to Plug Power Inc., Fuel Cell Energy and Nel Hydrogen/Proton Onsite, were invited to the hearing.

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David Hutter

David Hutter

David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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