Neal F. Lane
Assistant to the President for
Science and Technology

MARCH 17, 1999, 10:00AM
Room 450 OEOB


Thank you all for coming here to help honor a group of people who have given their country and the world a great gift. Their work is a great achievement -- not only because of the importance of their invention, but also because they were able to forge a team from diverse backgrounds in public and private research teams, and from both large and small companies. This year's PNGV Medal winners include researchers from Argonne National Laboratory, Arthur D. Little's Epyx, General Motors, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Plug Power. Our nation is greatly in your debt, both for the technical genius that made this achievement possible and for your ability to build on each other's strengths and learn from each other.

When the CEOs of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler stood together with the President and the Vice President six years ago and accepted the challenge of PNGV, many thought that the goal was simply impossible. An affordable car that could get up to three times the fuel efficiency of a comparable vehicle? Surely that was too ambitious! But your work on this team has brought that goal almost within our grasp.

Given that this is St. Patrick's Day, I'm reminded of a story that President Kennedy once told in reference to America's space program. He said: "Frank O'Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall -- and then they had no choice but to follow them." And then President Kennedy added, "This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it." Well, that's precisely what we have done in this PNGV program. We have tossed our cap across the wall, and now we have no choice but to follow.

We knew six years ago, as we know today, that if this country and the world are to continue to enjoy the enormous benefits of affordable personal transportation for the foreseeable future, some basic inventions will be needed. Clearly, we could not achieve the PNGV goals simply through small iterative improvements in vehicle design. We understood that this challenge would require the courage, the skills, and the imagination to develop entirely new solutions. The bottom line was to convert a bold idea into a practical invention. The achievement we're honoring here today makes it possible to imagine a car that can be a "world-beater", a car that can meet environmental and safety goals without added cost, a car that will not place long-term burdens on the world's supply of petroleum fuels. In short, what you've done will make it possible for future generations of Americans to enjoy the same freedoms, convenience, and recreation that we derive from today's automobiles. Succeeding in achieving the PNGV goals will surely be marked as one of the great technical and transformational achievements at the dawning of the twenty-first century.

Fuel cells can well make an important contribution to the goal, but they face a potential show-stopper. These devices use hydrogen instead of the liquid gasoline that is so easy to pump and store in gas tanks. The team we're honoring today has developed a technique that would allow us to fill our fuel-cell cars at filling stations that would dispense ordinary gasoline or alternative fuels such as methanol, ethanol, or natural gas -- a step that goes a long way toward turning a space-age curiosity into a practical consumer product.

The award you're receiving today recognizes and salutes you for your teamwork and for your remarkable technical achievement. It is an honor you richly deserve.

The President and Vice President, and the leaders of the automobile companies who embody this PNGV agreement, recognized that the goals were ambitious when they first asked the research community to "swing for the fences."

What your team has done comes close to hitting a grand slam! The leaders who launched PNGV knew that we would need revolutionary inventions in automobile technology, and they were willing to bet on your ingenuity, skills, and dedication to help make this dream a reality. You have lived up to our expectations and more.

Thanks to your work, the future is now coming into sharper focus. We are beginning to see more clearly how cars bearing the mark of your genius might, in the not-too-distant future, be sold around the world, generating jobs and income here at home, while also helping us to improve our environment at the same time. This is an accomplishment for which our nation is deeply grateful.