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Fuel Cells Could Drive Green Jobs Recovery

Feb/Mar 10
The Area Development Frontline series offers insight into the innovative strategy being taken by businesses that are succeeding, intelligence on locations that are deploying winning policy to attract investment and talent, and reports on the industry trends that are affecting and shaping the global business climate now and into the future.
The Los Angeles Center of Honda R&D Americas is testing a "solar hydrogen station" designed to refill fuel cell electric vehicles on the home front. A Price Chopper supermarket location in Albany is relying on a 400-kilowatt fuel cell to provide most of its electricity. Toshiba is showing off a proof-of-concept fuel cell that could be used to power mobile devices.

After years of research, fuel cells are getting closer and closer to the marketplace - and that's offering the promise of new jobs in an economy where all things green are gaining momentum. In fact, the global fuel cell industry could create 700,000 green manufacturing jobs over the next decade, according to Fuel Cell Today's latest industry report. In the United States, the $2.3 billion Recovery Act's Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credits for clean energy manufacturing projects will create tens of thousands of clean energy jobs in 43 states.

 "In Europe and North America, there has been a great deal of political focus in recent years on job creation to stimulate economic growth and also to compensate for those being lost in declining industries," says Dr. Kerry-Ann Adamson, a principal analyst at Fuel Cell Today. "Jobs in the fuel cell industry are genuine green-collar jobs - manufacturing jobs focused on new, clean technologies."

The question is, where will these jobs be created? Much like biotechnology or nanotechnology, many states and cities are proclaiming fuel cell hub status - but fewer are close to commercializing this green energy source. Which states can take a potential green route out of recession? Which regions will see the 325,000 to 650,000 U.S. green-collar jobs the Department of Energy predicts by 2035?

Connecticut is among the leaders in the United States, helping to pioneer the development and application of fuel cells and hydrogen generation. Companies like Proton Energy Systems and UTC Power, a world leader in developing and producing fuel cells for on-site power at buildings and for transportation applications, call the region home.

Albany, N.Y., is already seeing fuel cells manufactured by companies like Plug Power. Rochester, N.Y., boasts the General Motors Research Center, with its focus on fuel cells. GM is working with state energy officials on developing a series of filling stations across the state, with the goal of the infrastructure being in place in the next five years, just before mass production of fuel cell vehicles.

 "There is significant job potential in the supply chain for fuel cells," says Bob Rose, founder of the U.S. Fuel Cell Council. "You have to look at areas like the Northeast first, with New York and Connecticut leading the growth, then California because of the Japanese car companies out there developing fuel cell vehicles. Beyond these areas, you also have to look at Ohio."

The Ohio Fuel Cell Initiative is a $103 million effort to help expand the fuel cell industry in Ohio through financing, research, development, and training projects. Meanwhile, Rose calls South Carolina the "scrappy kid on the block" that relies on its automotive presence and the Savannah River National Lab to push its hydrogen prospects.

 "We're still scratching the surface of the commercial marketplace for fuel cells - and also scratching the surface of job growth," Rose says. "The fuel cell industry is right on the cusp of a green economy with manufacturing, assembly, supply, sales, and service jobs awaiting."

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