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GM's first generation fuel cell system has been extensively tested by a fleet of 100 retrofitted Chevy Equinox fuel cell vehicles.  (Source: Car and Driver)

GM's second generation fuel cells are 220 lb lighter, use half the precious metals, and take up half the space of the previous generation system.  (Source: AutoBlog Green)
Despite a strong push for electric, GM isn't skimping on hydrogen, another popular "green" vehicle technology

Hydrogen is an attractive alternative fuel for the auto industry in some respects.  The technology to produce it with electricity already exists, and it would provide an ideal way to store energy from alternative energy sources such as clean nuclear fission, wind, solar, and (eventually) nuclear fusion. 

However, many obstacles remain to its commercial deployment.  One challenge is developing a production, delivery, and fueling station network capable of sustaining commercial numbers of hydrogen vehicles.  Thanks largely to Toyota and Honda, the roots of such a network have been planted in America's largest urban centers: Los Angeles, California and New York, New York. 

Now one of the American automakers is preparing to step up its efforts to solve the other key challenge -- designing vehicles capable of using hydrogen efficiently.  GM has announced plans to bring vehicles powered by the universe's most abundant gas to the market in only six years.  GM is targeting the 2016 model year for a commercial deployment of its fifth generation fuel cell system.  By the time the fifth generation lands, GM believes the system's size, cost, reliability, and capabilities will be ready for viable mass produced vehicles.

Currently, GM is wrapping up testing its second generation fuel cells.  These cells feature impressive advances over GM's first generation cells.  In total, GM's second generation fuel cell system is 220 pounds lighter than the previous generation, half the size, and uses half the precious metals, while delivering comparable power.

States Charles Freese, executive director of GM Fuel Cell Activities, "The improvements the team has been able to achieve are remarkable.  Hardware mechanization has been dramatically simplified, which will help reduce cost, simplify manufacturing and improve durability."

GM says that it has spent $1.5B USD of its own money on fuel cell vehicles, but it warns it won't be able to deploy the vehicle's commercially without government and industry-wide support.  Mr. Freese adds, "GM has invested more than $1.5 billion in fuel cell technology and we are committed to continuing to invest, but we no longer can go it alone.  As we approach a costly part of the program, we will require government and industry partnerships to install a hydrogen infrastructure and help create a customer pull for the products."

To drum up interest in fuel cell vehicles, GM has deployed 100 hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric Chevrolet Equinox midsize crossovers powered by its first generation cells.  The vehicles have been driven over 1 million miles by ordinary citizens and celebrities, since 2007.  Two DailyTech staffers drove one of these vehicles at the Consumer Electronics Show in early 2008, and came away with favorable impressions.

GM and its competitors Toyota and Honda are hoping that fuel distributors and the U.S. government support a greater U.S. deployment over the next several years.  The German government just announced plans to build 1,000 hydrogen fueling stations by 2015.  In Japan, 13 oil and gas companies have announced similar plans.  That leaves the U.S., which only has 73 existing and 44 planned stations, far behind these foreign competitors [Source].  GM has high hopes, though, that the U.S. deployment will pick up and it will catch up before 2015.

GM is also aggressively pursuing commercial electric vehicle deployment – next year it will deliver the 2011 Chevy Volt EV.

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RE: Problems
By drmo on 9/28/2009 10:36:06 AM , Rating: 2
"the over all efficiency of delivered energy to the car is around 20%."

That is still better than most ICEs.
Hydrogen is meant to replace fossil fuels, not batteries. Hydrogen vehicles could end up being EVs like the Volt, with backup fuel cells rather than gas.

"This is terrible compared to batteries which have an overall energy storage efficiency above 90%."

This is not correct. Charging-discharging efficiency is about 90%. Battery to wheels efficiency is about 90%. So a total of about 81%. Still great, but keep in mind that batteries are much heavier, and thus require more energy because they have to move more weight. Hence, the best EV only goes about 100 miles per charge, compared to a fuel cell vehicle getting 270 miles per fill.

Also, electrolysis can be as high as 75%. Natural gas reformation (a renewable fuel) can be up to 85% currently. 'Waste heat' can be used for a water heater on site. Fuel cell to wheels can be as much as 60% currently. Because hydrogen is compressed (losing energy initially), some energy is 'recovered' because the fuel doesn't have to be pumped. You could even harvest the energy conceivably. (Ever hear of compressed air vehicles?)
Plus, fuel cells are lighter than batteries, so less energy is needed to propel a similarly sized vehicle.

RE: Problems
By randomly on 9/28/2009 1:25:30 PM , Rating: 2
You're comparisons are wrong.

The 20% to 90% comparison is from the well to the output of the electrical storage system, that's the output of the fuel cell or the output of the battery. That's before it goes to the motors. Which is apples to apples. The correct comparison.

You are adding in a 90% battery to wheels efficiency for the battery case, but not including it for the fuel cell. That's a faulty comparison.

True above a certain total stored energy the batteries are heavier than a fuel cell system and hydrogen tank. However because of the efficiency losses I mentioned you have to generate almost 5 times as much energy to power the fuel cell vehicle as the battery vehicle, that's 5 times the energy cost per mile for the fuel cell vehicle.

However if you go with a PHEV design like the Volt, you can limit the battery weight by sizing it for only 40-60 miles of range which covers over 80% of the daily mileage requirements for cars and couple it with a small ICE generator you can extend the total range to 500+ miles, eliminate the need for a costly hydrogen infrastructure, and get cheaper cost per mile. Since the ICE generator can be designed for constant load/constant RPM it's effeciency will be over 30%.

75% electrolysis efficiency is bogus. Please site a reference to an actual electrolysis system that achieves that efficiency.

You missed the point about reforming Natural gas. Even though it's efficiency is around 80% a fuel cell vehicle is STILL LESS EFFICIENT THAN A SIMPLE DIESEL HYBRID. So why bother with all that expense and infrastructure for less efficiency if you are going to use fossil fuels anyway.

Fuel cell{electrical supply) to wheels efficiency is irrelevant since it applies equally to PHEV, Fuel cell, or battery vehicles.
Compressing the hydrogen costs you about 12% of your total energy. You could conceivably recover some of that energy, but not a lot since it won't be an adiabatic system and there are lot of losses in the system. It also adds even more cost and complexity to recover that few percent.

As an engineer I was enthusiastic about fuel cells and hydrogen economies so I really looked into the topic. Unfortunately the more I researched the worse things got. A Hydrogen economy is no panacea, it doesn't even appear to have any advantages over other competing technologies. The economics of it don't add up. It gets a lot of press and PR but this mostly from researchers looking for grants, companies making press announcements to generate funding, hyped up articles to generate readership, and huge companies spending money on their Eco-image PR.

It's rare to find a realistic hydrogen article. Usually it's all sunshine and wonder, they just downplay or don't mention all the drawbacks. A lot of engineers don't think a hydrogen economy will ever occur because the economics of it just don't add up.

RE: Problems
By drmo on 9/28/2009 2:53:18 PM , Rating: 2
75% electrolysis efficiency.
Maybe it is bunk; I don't know.

I may have been wrong about the 60% (I had thought it was fuel cell to wheel), but then your number (50%) was wrong too, because that is closer to fuel cell to wheel, which was not included in the battery number you gave.

I did not mean to imply well-to-wheel efficiency was better for hydrogen than batteries, only to point out that there are other factors (like weight), that make batteries less efficient than they at first appear. I think it is clear that batteries will beat all other storage in terms of efficiency by a long shot.

Also, diesel is not easily renewable, so it fails to do what I said in my last post: replace fossil fuels. Maybe the algae thing will work on a large scale, maybe not. Diesel cannot be produced from excess electricity either. Diesel emissions also are linked to cancer:

Personally, I think the Volt-like system is the way to go, rather than pure EV, but to get away from fossil fuels, then diesel and gas will probably need to be replaced. Biological production of these will only go so far, and the infrastructure to make enough biodiesel and biopetrol is probably more than is needed to set up hydrogen production by photovoltaic/ electrolysis/natural gas reformers at many gas stations.

Also, keep in mind, that hydrogen is a long-term solution, not immediate: from the oft-quoted MIT study:

“If auto systems with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions are required in, say, 30 to 50 years, hydrogen is the only major fuel option identified to date,” said Heywood.

RE: Problems
By randomly on 9/28/2009 6:37:21 PM , Rating: 2
I'm dubious of those claims of 75%. They don't really tell you how it was measured or what the reference was. Was it compared to the lower or higher heating value of hydrogen etc. You have to be careful of the definitions and measurement techniques. Find an actual working electrolyzer system.

None of the values I gave included to the wheel values. They are only from energy source to the electric output at the fuel cell or battery. Including to the wheel values just obscures the comparison between the fuel cell and batteries because the size, weight, design of the cars has so much impact on the end result and the cars used are never the same.

My point is that the over all efficiency of a hydrogen economy is so low and the cost so high that it's not an economically viable approach with technology that can be forseen in the next 20 years.

If even the real experts and fuel cell companies like Ballard Power Systems don't have any faith in the automotive fuel cell market, they probably know what they are talking about. Ballard pulled out of the hydrogen vehicle sector of it's business in 2007.

Research Capital analyst Jon Hykawy concluded that Ballard saw the industry going nowhere and said: "In my view, the hydrogen car was never alive. The problem was never could you build a fuel cell that would consume hydrogen, produce electricity, and fit in a car. The problem was always, can you make hydrogen fuel at a price point that makes any sense to anybody. And the answer to that to date has been no.

RE: Problems
By drmo on 9/28/2009 3:00:51 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, this looks good:

For wells-to-wheel comparisons. This puts diesel hybrid at 33%, EV at 66%, and hydrogen fuel cells at 22%.

Notably, they don't add in hybrid for fuel cells (all hydrogen vehicles are hybrids), and use somewhat lower numbers for fuel cell efficiency and electrolysis than I have seen, but this is from 2003.

RE: Problems
By drmo on 9/28/2009 3:04:08 PM , Rating: 2
Oops, that diesel number is for SOFC.

RE: Problems
By drmo on 9/28/2009 4:36:42 PM , Rating: 2
Also, according to this, the Honda FCX gets 60% tank to wheel efficiency:
Maybe they misunderstood the info....

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