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"We have a surprising amount of bi-partisan political support from very conservative to very liberal for fuel cell technology. People across the political spectrum support it for all different reasons - they see its potential for environmental and energy security, its strategic value, and how it can boost the economy..." he says.
"Canada has been seen as the native home of fuel cells, at least transportation fuel cells, because of Ballard's prominence, so it does seem both odd and discouraging that the government has essentially withdrawn its support for the industry."
People like Richard Chahine are especially concerned that the wrong signals and lack of policy will cause the industry to weaken and/or move elsewhere, and with it the knowledge base.
"We (in Canada) are not only strong in fuel cells, we are strong in the hydrogen-connected technologies and we do have a huge share of the global market," he says. "But now that we are looking at commercialization and business is picking up, we are letting it go."
He cites the $3,500 purchase incentive in the U.S. as an example. If companies sell more fuel cells there, rather than in Canada, eventually they will move there. A similar thing happened with the Canadian companies that developed forklifts powered by fuel cells. Just as they commercialized, they were bought by U.S. firms, so the companies along with their incumbent "brain power" moved there.
"When things pick up, we lose it. It's a history in Canada," he says.
Hopefully, some Canadians would like to change that history when it comes to fuel cells.
Excitement at Toyota
Working in a supportive framework
Even if you're a betting soul, you'll have a hard time choosing whether Toyota or Daimler will be first past the finish line with an affordable fuel cell car by 2015.
While it holds the technology developed by Ballard "as a pioneer" in high regard and envies Canadian expertise in this sector, Toyota is developing its own fuel cell technology for its FCHV-adv vehicles slated to be in showrooms within five years.
"It's exciting not just because of environmental and sustainability reasons, there's also a new excitement in driving a completely different technology," says Katsuhiko Hirose, Toyota's project general manager, who's in charge of strategy and technical development for fuel cell vehicles. He also helped develop the Prius, the world's top-selling hybrid.