is hydrogen being left out in the cold?

The government's recent pledge to offer motorists incentives of up to £5,000 to buy electric vehicles is stoking fears that other forms of low-carbon vehicle technology, such as biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells, could be sidelined over the coming years.

Speaking ahead of a debate this evening on the future of transport fuels organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, John Ling, head of transport at the Institution, said there was growing concern across the auto industry that some alternative fuel research projects could lose out as a result of the government's high-profile support for electric cars.

"We totally approve of electric cars, but we need to continue down all the available routes if we are to work out the best way of delivering deep cuts in road transport emissions by 2050," he told "There has been some money from the government for technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells and biomethane, which is a great fuel that has really high energy density, but most of the funding is now going to electric cars."

The government announced earlier this month that it is to provide £250m in incentives for purchasers of electric cars from 2011, but while fuel cell projects have attracted some government funding, many industry observers believe that they have long been regarded as a poor relation to electric vehicles by Whitehall.

Hugo Spowers, founder of RiverSimple, the company that designed the Morgan LIFECar and is planning to launch a new hydrogen-powered car this summer, said that the government should extend its planned incentives to other low-carbon vehicles.

"The government is supposed to be technologically neutral but by offering £5,000 to people willing to buy electric cars, it is not considering alternatives such as hydrogen fuel cells," he complained. "It is possible to make highly inefficient electric cars but that has not been deemed to be a problem. It is fantastic that it is offering incentives to encourage people to lower their carbon emissions but all types of alternative fuel should be rewarded."

Ling agreed that it was too early for the government to determine which technology would offer the best long-term potential for curbing transport emissions.

He added that while electric cars could deliver deep cuts in emissions, the UK's current reliance on coal and gas to generate electricity meant that they often had higher emissions per kilometre than some conventional cars. "Electric cars will only work [as a means of cutting emissions] if we invest much more in renewables," he said. "We need to keep all the options open and the government should be investing in other technologies as much as it is investing in electric cars."

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