Want to see the future? Or, at least, the car you might be driving there.

On Sunday, Aug. 10, at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, hydrogen-fueled cars manufactured by at least seven of the world’s top automakers will be on display from 2-5 p.m. The following day, the cars will leave for a tour of 18 states and 31 cities on their way to Exposition Park in Los Angeles, Calif.

While those interested in this new technology will be able to see it, they won’t be able to buy it. Unfortunately, though some consider these to be the vehicles of the future, it’s a distant future for consumers.

A recent report conducted by the National Research Council found that, while significant progress has been made on the development of hydrogen vehicles, only 2 million are expected to be available for purchase by 2020.

That’s partly because, even though we have the technology to manufacture the cars, we don’t have the infrastructure to support them. Even if consumers could buy them, they wouldn’t have anywhere to “gas” them up.

That, however, should not stop us from investing in this technology. As the man who led the study for the National Research Council, Alan Crane, said, “If you keep pushing off the start mechanism, you won’t get there.”

Hydrogen cars offer the prospect of independence from foreign oil and reliance on one of the world’s most plentiful elements. They also offer the promise of zero emissions, because the only byproduct is water vapor. If used widely, hydrogen cars could cut down significantly on the amount of greenhouse gasses being released into our atmosphere and leading to global warming.

Some argue that because hydrogen technology is still so far away, government subsidies should be spent on hybrid and electric cars, which are available today. Critics also point out that the National Research Council plan also relies on an unproven technology – carbon sequestration, whereby electricity is generated by sequestering it from carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to being unproven, sequestration relies on burning coal, which contributes to global warming, nullifying any benefits from hydrogen cars.

Despite these obstacles, the promise of hydrogen cars is too great not to explore. If our current situation with high fuel costs has taught us anything, it should be that diversifying our reliance on fuel sources is the safest bet. As hydrogen cars get closer to market, the incentive will increase for someone to come up with an alternative to carbon sequestration.

While the investment called for in the National Research Council report would seem to be high – $55 billion by 2023 – it would be smaller than subsidies for ethanol – expected to be $15 billion a year by 2020.

This country needs to embrace and invest in new technology. That’s the only way American car companies will regain dominance over their foreign competitors and the only way we will become independent from foreign oil.

Brendan Moran, editor

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