A new year is upon us, and it seems OPEC is starting to stick it to Americans and their driving habits. Analysts predict that gas prices will reach $4 a gallon by Memorial Day, so if the United States is going to start on the track to energy independence, 2011 is the year to go for it and go for it hard.

New technologies were abound while I attended CES, such as Chevy touting the economic and environmental benefits of the soon to be released Volt. I even had the opportunity to test drive the Nissan Leaf, and although these fully electric vehicles will lessen our dependance on foreign oil it will be a strain on our electric companies.

In comes the black sheep of alternative fuels in the form of the fuel cell. The FTA has recently approved $16.6 million in grants for fuel cell bus research. Amongst the research is how technology can help large fuel cell vehicles operate efficiently in cold weather climates, in addition to a multitude of other considerations.

The Center for Transportation and Environment in Atlanta will be awarded $6.42 million, while CALSTART in Pasadena, CA will receive $10.17 million, to partner in fuel cell research. They will mutually collect information about  fuel cell manufacturers and  engineering firms, as well as, interviewing other transit agencies across the country to survey best practices of implementation.

“The Obama Administration is proud to partner with researchers who are exploring greener, more efficient ways to power buses,” said US Transportation Secretary LaHood. “Adapting fuel-cell technology to buses will result in a cleaner environment and quieter streets for everyone.”

“The transit industry must continue to be at the forefront of creating green jobs and establishing globally competitive technologies right here at home in the United States,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. “As we move clean, fuel-efficient bus projects from the drawing board to the street, we move the nation closer to energy independence and a cleaner environment.”

There are two major factors in the success of implementing fuel cell buses on a large scale. First, the production and implementation of these alternative fuel busses needs to be economically feasible on a commercial level, not only in the present, but going forward into the future. The second, and probably the more complicated, is to increase public acceptance of the fuel cell vehicles as a viable form of public transportation.

I think we would all agree that our dependence on foreign oil to fuel our transportation needs to lessen, and fairly quickly. If we as individuals are looking for cost saving with hybrids, electric cars and fuel cells immediately upon adoption, we will  be very disappointed. Like any venture that is worth diving into there is apt to be a bit of pain initially, but after a time of pain we will all start reaping the benefits.

What are your thoughts on alternative fuel for individual and commercial use? Let me know in the comments below.