Hydrogen Fuel Prize – H-Prize Act of 2006

Count on the Congress of the United States to close the gate after the horse has left the barn. With climate change (aka global warming) not only in your face, but your backyard, front yard, living room and kitchen, assuming your coastal house is still standing, the 109th Congress is considering the H-Prize Act of 2006, an X-Prize like competition to create incentives for innovation in hydrogen transportation and stationary technologies.

The prize and idea are great but long overdue. This should have been law for the past 20 years. If it were, the climate would likely still be warmer but our air cleaner, importation of crude oil lower and geopolitics considerably more civil.

The wallets of the Bush and Cheney families would be thinner of course, as would those of the players in OPEC and the major oil companies. Thankfully, the congressional staffers who drafted the H-Prize Act seem to have been well informed and reasonably bright. Or perhaps I’m just being optimistic.

The proposed law (it is not yet agreed by the Senate nor signed by the Shrub) is somewhat application neutral instead of being car-centric as so many past incentive programs (grants) have been.

The bill directs the Secretary of Energy (Department of Energy) to establish prizes in: hydrogen production, hydrogen storage, hydrogen distribution, hydrogen utilization, prototypes of hydrogen-powered “vehicles” (not automobiles!) and so-called transformational technologies that meet or exceed far-reaching objective criteria.

Well, let’s see what the Senate does to this effort and if the oil baron in the White House signs on the dotted line. Or at least marks it with his “X.”

Here is some of the official text from the prize categories section of the legislative language approved by the House and sent off to the Senate for conference committee mutilation:


(a) Categories- The Secretary shall establish prizes for–

(1) advancements in components or systems related to–

(A) hydrogen production;

(B) hydrogen storage;

(C) hydrogen distribution; and

(D) hydrogen utilization;

(2) prototypes of hydrogen-powered vehicles or other hydrogen-based products that best meet or exceed objective performance criteria, such as completion of a race over a certain distance or terrain or generation of energy at certain levels of efficiency; and

(3) transformational changes in technologies for the distribution or production of hydrogen that meet or exceed far-reaching objective criteria, which shall include minimal carbon emissions and which may include cost criteria designed to facilitate the eventual market success of a winning technology.

(b) Awards-

(1) ADVANCEMENTS- To the extent permitted under section 3(e), the prizes authorized under subsection (a)(1) shall be awarded biennially to the most significant advance made in each of the four subcategories described in subparagraphs (A) through (D) of subsection (a)(1) since the submission deadline of the previous prize competition in the same category under subsection (a)(1) or the date of enactment of this Act, whichever is later, unless no such advance is significant enough to merit an award. No one such prize may exceed $1,000,000. If less than $4,000,000 is available for a prize competition under subsection (a)(1), the Secretary may omit one or more subcategories, reduce the amount of the prizes, or not hold a prize competition.

(2) PROTOTYPES- To the extent permitted under section 3(e), prizes authorized under subsection (a)(2) shall be awarded biennially in alternate years from the prizes authorized under subsection (a)(1). The Secretary is authorized to award up to one prize in this category in each 2-year period. No such prize may exceed $4,000,000. If no registered participants meet the objective performance criteria established pursuant to subsection (c) for a competition under this paragraph, the Secretary shall not award a prize.

(3) TRANSFORMATIONAL TECHNOLOGIES- To the extent permitted under section 3(e), the Secretary shall announce one prize competition authorized under subsection (a)(3) as soon after the date of enactment of this Act as is practicable. A prize offered under this paragraph shall be not less than $10,000,000, paid to the winner in a lump sum, and an additional amount paid to the winner as a match for each dollar of private funding raised by the winner for the hydrogen technology beginning on the date the winner was named. The match shall be provided for 3 years after the date the prize winner is named or until the full amount of the prize has been paid out, whichever occurs first. A prize winner may elect to have the match amount paid to another entity that is continuing the development of the winning technology. The Secretary shall announce the rules for receiving the match in the notice required by section 3(b)(2). The Secretary shall award a prize under this paragraph only when a registered participant has met the objective criteria established for the prize pursuant to subsection (c) and announced pursuant to section 3(b)(2). Not more than $10,000,000 in Federal funds may be used for the prize award under this paragraph. The administering entity shall seek to raise $40,000,000 toward the matching award under this paragraph.

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