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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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For consideration
By AquarianM on 3/19/2010 7:41:54 AM , Rating: 2
1. The average commute is under 50 miles in the U.S.
This woulsd allow the Volt to run mostly gasoline-free for the majority of consumer miles driven, vastly reducing the carbon footprint of the vehicle.

2. The U.S. electrical grid's generation plants are generally idled at night, because it is cheaper and easier on the equipment than shutting them down.

I've seen articles stating that enough energy is wasted by idling power plants at night when demand is low to power 75% of the entire U.S. vehicle fleet were those vehicles all-electric. If Volt users re-charge their vehicles at night, as the vast majority of them will, impact on the overall prices of electricity will not be large, barring a barrel full of lies by electricty generators.

3. Cut the carbon exhaust, whiners!

RE: For consideration
By porkpie on 3/19/2010 9:48:54 AM , Rating: 2
"I've seen articles stating that enough energy is wasted by idling power plants at night when demand is low to power 75% of the entire U.S. vehicle fleet"

Only if that article was written by a scientific illiterate. We do not burn fuel unnecessarily; at night (and all other times), power plants match their output to demand. Furthermore, in some cold regions and periods, night time demand is higher than daytime.

Still further, plants are offlined for maintenance during periods of low demand. If you "fill up the demand curve" during those periods, you remove downtime capacity, which ultimately will result in the need for more capacity.

Still further, if one sells a large number of electric vehicles, at least a portion of those will be charged during the day, meaning peak demand will inevitably rise.

Stop seeing the world through green-colored sunglasses and accept some basic realities. If you want a large fleet of electric cars, you need to build more power plants. Period.

"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings

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