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Metaldyne CEO Calls for All-Out Press on Hydrogen

In a very succinct and focused speech at the Automotive News World Congress in Dearborn, Metaldyne Corp. Chief Executive Tim Leuliette called energy independence the most critical issue facing the US, and outlined the basics of a serious industry-government partnership to advance rapidly the advent of a hydrogen economy.

[...] there is actually a more significant challenge for all of us in this industry and in this country. It’s an issue we raise periodically and then put away when concerns fade from the nightly news. It’s an issue we like not to talk about unless we have to. It’s an issue that with one senseless act, one government collapse, one hiccup in a global distribution system, will become our worst nightmare.

The issue is the drug that our industry, our society, is hooked on…it’s called oil.

He called for an industry and government partnership to move the nation away from oil dependence and toward a hydrogen-based economy.

We are at the beginning of a journey [to a hydrogen economy], and have many technological issues to overcome, but they can be overcome.

Those who support this path, do so for three fundamental reasons. First, we must find an alternative energy source for national security reasons. Second, we must find an alternative energy source for environmental reasons. And third, we must find an alternative fuel source for fundamental long-term economic reasons. How you rank these reasons is your own concern, but the answer doesn’t change.

Leuliette wants to get serious—and doesn’t see the current Hydrogen Fuel Initiative as anywhere close to adequate.

The $1.2 billion Hydrogen Fuel Initiative that President Bush announced in his State of the Union two years ago aims for fuel cell technology to reach the automotive consumer by 2020, and for hydrogen technology to significantly reduce this country’s oil usage by 2040. The current plan outlines a timetable ten times longer than the Manhattan project…and four times longer that putting a man on the moon.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am absolutely convinced that we don’t have that kind of time. We don’t have anywhere near that kind of time...$1.2 billion is a token gesture.

He proposed a campaign, dubbed the Hydrogen Project, that would rival the Apollo Project of the 1960s and the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.

The solution will not come from Washington…but enabling legislation and the money will. This is more important than sending a man to Mars, and it’s more important than subsidizing tobacco farmers to grow a product that we are, at the same time, trying to dissuade usage because of its health risks. It is more important than particle beam weapons, and it is more important than the $15 billion Big Dig project in Boston. We are talking about true energy independence. We are talking about eliminating the leverage that radical Islam has over this country. We are talking about disconnecting this nation from the oil thirst the new China will impart upon the world’s producers.

He then outlined his four-point plan for Project Hydrogen.

  1. Immediately establish a well-funded and powerful industry consortium comprised of automakers, suppliers and organized labor to provide interface and political singularity.

  2. Establish, through an industry technical society like SAE, a hydrogen-powered-vehicle design team to set industry practice and design rules.

  3. Target that 80% of the vehicles sold in this country and 100% of the vehicles imported to this country be hydrogen powered by 2020.

  4. A $.10/gallon gas tax beginning in 2008 and increasing by $.10/gallon per year through 2012 to fund R&D, infrastructure and incentive needs.

It is a good speech, and makes a cogent argument that I can’t adequately represent without reproducing the entire text. Well worth a read.

Metaldyne is  a leading metals-based components (e.g., engine, chassis, driveline) supplier to the auto industry. The $2B company combines the largest independent forging capability, one of the largest independent machining and assembly capabilities and the largest manufacturer of thin-wall precision die castings for automotive applications in North America.

The goals of Leuliette’s Project Hydrogen sound similar to the goals of the Apollo Alliance—but there are differences in the missions.

The Apollo Alliance describes itself as “a broad coalition within the labor, environmental, business, urban, and faith communities in support of good jobs and energy independence.” It develops “public education campaigns and communications strategies... for a bold, broad-based, and immediate program of public policy to achieve energy independence.” (From what I can tell, however, it does not have the active participation of business.)

The hypothetical Project Hydrogen, however, seems more focused on organizing industry to do the actual research, design and engineering work.

Both will be necessary. Without public education—consumer education—the necessary policy changes won’t have support. Without organizing and funding industry to do the work, the actual discoveries and developments won’t be made.


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