The Bush administration is abandoning a $1.5billion, eight-year government-backed project to develop high-mileage gasoline-fueled vehicles. In its place, it is supporting a plan that the Department of Energy and the auto industry have devised to develop hydrogen-based fuel cells to power the cars of the future, government and industry officials said on Jan. 8.The new effort, scheduled to be announced inDetroit on Jan. 9 by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, has as its goal the eventualreplacement of the internal combustion engine.Abraham will announce government and industry funding expected to run well beyond $100 million for research into fuel cells, according to a Jan. 9 report in the Los Angeles Times
. Under the program, to be called Freedom Car, the government will join General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler in fuel cell research, which each of the auto makers has been pursuing independently for several years.Fuel cells use stored hydrogen and oxygen from the air to create electricity, producing water vaper as the only engine emission. Many environmentalists and some energy experts applaud the research.But according to some critics, the new programwould let Washington and Detroit focus on ill-defined, far-future goals while avoiding the more immediate and difficult task of actually making existing vehicles more fuel efficient.The previous fuel efficiency plan, called Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), focused on more efficient gasoline engines and had been backed by the Clinton administration and was a priority of then-Vice President Al Gore. One of its main goals was a car that could get 80 miles per gallon of gasoline reaching production by 2004.The commercial production of cars with fuel- cell engines is at least 10 to 20 years away, according to industry experts. With Senate hearings scheduled for February on a Democratic alternative to President Bush's energy program, it is unclear how either party will address fuel economy standards, which are unpopular with carmakers and organized labor but are backed by environmental groups.Across the board on Jan. 8, shares of companies which develop technology that use fuel cells to create electricity from hydrogen, saw double-digit percentage increases after reports that the U.S Department of Energy plans to invest in research of fuel cells as an energy substitute, analysts said.