Leaders from United Parcel Service, DaimlerChrysler and public officials gathered to announce the completion of a deal last Monday that will put hydrogen-powered vehicles into service on delivery routes for UPS in southeast Michigan.

J. Brady McCollough
Senator Carl Levin speaks about the new Fuel Cell Cars at the National Vehicle Fuel Emissions Laboratory on Monday, May 19, 2003. (SETH LOWER/Daily)

Chief Operating Officer of UPS Tom Weidemeyer said he feels environmental sustainability is directly related to corporate success.

“We see economic development and environmental protection as sustaining each other. There’s probably no greater example of that on a large scale than what we’ve all seen less than forty miles away from here at Lake Erie. Thirty years ago when I lived here in Michigan, the lake was heavily polluted and pretty much left for dead. Tourism was basically non-existent,” Weidemeyer said. “I remember it well – don’t swim and whatever you do, don’t eat the fish. Today, thanks to the vision of people who understand the benefits of sustainable development, … the lake is dramatically healthier, bears the moniker of ‘Walleyed Capital of the World,’ and tourism is a multi-million dollar business.”

Weidemeyer also drew similarities between Lake Erie and air pollution.

“We’re proud to be a part of another initiative that could also directly benefit the economic and environmental quality of life for communities here in southeast Michigan and ultimately, communities around the world.

While many are excited about this step toward large scale commercial production of hydrogen fuel cells, Chrysler Group President and CEO Dieter Zetsche reminded the group at the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory of the many problems still facing researchers.

“There are still many significant troubles to overcome to prove the commercial viability of this technology. In terms of infrastructure, there is a need to develop a means to safely transport hydrogen in bulk to the refueling stations,” Zetsche said. “Of course we will ultimately need these hydrogen refueling stations scattered around the country as conventional gas stations are today in order to make fuel cell powered vehicles vital for anything other than centrally-fueled fleets.

Zetsche added that problems of expense extend to the very design of the fuel cell itself.

“We still have some tough challenges related to cost. For example, the fuel cell stack in which hydrogen and oxygen are brought together to produce energy requires the use of noble metals such as platinum for catalysts, and platinum runs as much as seven hundred dollars an ounce. We are still working to improve the packaging and bring down the cost of on-board hydrogen storage tanks from the several thousand dollars it costs today.”

Many lawmakers like U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-Detroit) are also supportive of similar efforts to improve fuel cell technology.

“The issue is whether or not we have the vision to do what we need to do to make fuel cells a reality,” said Levin, who said he encourages significant tax breaks for those developing fuel cell technology.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said she is impressed with the government’s continued support of this initiative.

“This is truly an example of a whole lot of people coming together across party lines to do what is best for the people that we serve,” Whitman said.

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