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On the right is GM's fourth generation fuel cell stack, used in the 2007 Equinox FCV. On the left is the dramatically shrunk, lighter fuel cell, which still outputs the same power.  (Source: GM via Treehugger)

The old Equinox engine with its fuel cell system is seen on the left, with the petite new system on the right.  (Source: GM via Treehugger)
Company plans to sell vehicles with the system by 2015

Is the automotive market ready for fuel cell vehicles?  Is it even ready for electric vehicles?  

In both cases GM thinks the answer is "yes" and it is leading the charge to deploy these technologies.  The 2011 Chevy Volt, set to launch later this year, will be the first mass market electric vehicle to be sold in the U.S. (past EVs saw limited distribution).  And GM announced today that it was beginning testing of production-intent fuel cells in preparation for a 2015 fuel cell (FC) vehicle launch.

In 2008, we tested GM's Equinox FC vehicles on the roads of Las Vegas.  Since then the fleet has logged the most miles of any fuel cell fleet GM is aware of -- 1.3 million everyday miles in total.

GM has applied those lessons to make a dramatically improved next generation fuel cell systemdesign.  The design is 220 pounds lighter, is about half the size, and uses only about a third of the precious platinum that the 2008 cells used (80 grams used in the old stack, 30 g in the new stack).

Charles Freese, executive director of GM's Global Fuel Cell Activities states, "Our learning from Project Driveway has been tremendous and these vehicles have been very important to our program.  The 30 months we committed to the demonstration are winding down, but we will keep upgrades of these vehicles running and will continue learning from them while we focus efforts on the production-intent program for 2015."

The launch of official testing of the new design will coincide with the wind down of GM's 2007 project, dubbed "Project Driveway".  Elaborates Freese, "Some of the 119 fuel cell electric vehicles in Project Driveway will receive hardware and software upgrades and will become part of a technology demonstration program with the U.S. Department of Energy. Others will be driven by businesses and a few will be used to continue showing that, with proper fueling infrastructure, hydrogen fuel cells are a viable alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles.  We will continue to use the Project Driveway fleet strategically to advance fuel cell technology, hydrogen infrastructure, and GM's vehicle electrification goals."

Stephanie White, a fuel cell advocate who was among the first Project Driveway participants and is an avid blogger on hydrogen in the automotive sector, was the first individual to receive a long-term loan of the next generation fuel cell vehicle.  

She describes her past experiences, stating, "Driving the Chevy fuel cell around LA has been an amazing experience.  People are always stopping me to ask questions about the vehicle and I tell them how powerful and eco-friendly it is."

Durability remains a concern for the cells.  They currently are good for about 80,000 miles.  GM hopes to bump that to 120,000 miles by 2015.  GM also hopes to get the amount of platinum used in the stack under 10 g, while maintaining equivalent power.  By 2015 the company plans on producing about 10,000 fuel cell vehicles a year.

GM still faces significant challenges even if it can produce a moderately affordable fuel cell design.  Foremost is the lack of hydrogen infrastructure.  With no infrastructure in place throughout much of the country, FC vehicles may only be able to operate in limited areas like New York and California.


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GM hopes to get life span up to 120k miles
By Davelo on 3/18/2010 9:11:05 PM , Rating: 2
That should put it's lifespan on par with the rest of GM's fleet. Sad but true. This is why GM is where it is.

RE: GM hopes to get life span up to 120k miles
By rudolphna on 3/19/2010 8:59:26 PM , Rating: 2
Really? Seriously? You are quite the ignoramous. So, my 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier, 2.2L, 3 speed auto, that has 132K miles on it, and runs as good as it did when new, says nothing? Today's GM cars are just as good as anything coming from Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota. It's people like you that have their head stuck in back in the 80s, and early 90s that give GM a bad rap.

By Davelo on 3/20/2010 1:52:40 PM , Rating: 2
Ignoramus, huh? I have owned my share of GMs. The last I still own, a 1997 Grand Prix. Every gasket in the POS has went bad at least once. The entire bottom of the car is awash in oil and fluids of various types. It also burns a quart of oil every 2k miles. All the window motors have went bad. Bad alternator, PS pump and rack. Brakes went bad shortly after driving it off the lot. Water pump went bad luckily under warranty and they also found a leaking intake manifold. I could go on and on.

We also own a Toyota 4Runner of the same vintage. You can eat off the bottom of that vehicle. Not a drop or even a seep to be found. It is the epitome of reliability.

RE: GM hopes to get life span up to 120k miles
By whiskerwill on 3/20/2010 2:07:19 PM , Rating: 2
So, my 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier, 2.2L, 3 speed auto, that has 132K miles on it
That supposed to impress someone? My last Honda was sold with 230K miles on it. Only thing I ever replaced was wipers and tires.

My last GM car had a replacement trannie, a/c compressor, and electric window motors all before it hit 100K.

By Davelo on 3/20/2010 4:32:26 PM , Rating: 2
Yep. I forgot the a/c compressor also went on mine to a tune of $1200 to get fixed.

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