FREEPORT, Texas (AP) — General Motors isn’t just
producing cars these days.

The world’s largest automaker along with Dow Chemical Co.
yesterday began generating electricity when Energy Secretary
Spencer Abraham flipped a switch combining GM’s fuel cells
with excess hydrogen from the Dow Chemical Co. plant in
Freeport.

The resulting electricity, produced as hydrogen flows over the
metal plates in fuel cells, eventually could power 2 percent of the
chemical plant — enough electricity to power 25,000 homes for
a year.

“This isn’t some esoteric idea, some pie-in-the-sky
theory. This is real,” Abraham said, referring to the
agreement that is considered the largest commercial application of
fuel cells to date.

“It proves that hydrogen is already playing a key
role,” he said. “These technologies are on the horizon
— not something in the far off distant future, but something
tangible that happens to help America become more energy
independent and at the same time improve the
environment.”

Through the deal, which lasts through 2010, GM hopes to reduce
the cost of fuel cell technology in order to put the battery-like
power producers into vehicles by 2010.

“Today is about much more than an isolated
innovation,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said. “Today is
about pushing the envelope of science and technology to
revolutionize how we live as a society. Fuel cell technology has
great promise to shift us away from a dependency on fossil fuels
and to help build a hydrogen-powered economy.”

Bringing about a hydrogen-based economy has become a goal of
President Bush’s administration, Abraham said. He said the
president has committed $1.7 billion over five years to fuel a turn
toward a hydrogen-based economy.

However, Abraham said it is going to take more than the
government’s investment.

“Ultimately, it is our view that it isn’t government
that is going to build the hydrogen economy of the future,”
he said. “The future will not be constructed in the halls of
government, but in the labs and factories of places like General
Motors, Dow Chemical, the other auto companies around the world and
other innovators.”

Dow, which produces chemicals, plastics and fertilizer,
approached GM about a deal in October 2002.

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