GM Still Aiming to Produce Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle


Following General Motors’ announcements about its future product plans is news of one of the General’s future powertrain plans. GM’s executive director of research and development said the automaker still plans on producing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

Currently, GM and Honda have hydrogen fuel cell vehicles running around in select areas as test and low-volume production vehicles. GM is hoping to change that by 2012 by releasing a hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle.

“Technology leadership is one of the pillars of the company,” said Alan Taub, GM’s executive director of research and development. “That is going to remain, and it will probably be emphasized as part of the brand of GM.”

GM has already made improvements with the technology and has reduced both the size and cost of its fuel cell stack. However, the company still has a ways to go to make the fuel cell stack cost competitive as Taub said it costs about 30 percent more than the upcoming Volt’s powertrain right now.

Taub confirmed GM is working on a production fuel cell vehicle, but said nothing about what vehicle the fuel cell would be put in or any other specifications on it. He’s striving to have the vehicle in production by 2012.

While hydrogen fuel cells have been praised for producing no harmful emissions, they face an uncertain future as there is no infrastructure set up to handle hydrogen refilling. Also, unlike the last administration, President Obama has little interest in hydrogen fuel cells.

Source: Automotive News

From the outset, GM recognized that the Holy Grail is hydrogen and has geared its research and development to that end -- to the credit of Dr. Larry Burns and Rick Wagoner. True, hybrids and electrics are appealing for short term goals (indeed GM immersed itself in the Volt last year), but these are stopgap technologies, with nowhere near the manifold benefits of hydrogen – or its potential to simply annihilate the field. Yes, a bird at hand is still better than two in the bush, but lately is has been difficult for companies to keep their sights on that one sure bird when they see a whole flock of them afar. Hydrogen research offers so much potential, it is hard to ignore anymore even by conservative business folks. Anyway, here is the text of a letter submitted to the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Hydrogen Storage: Chemical Engineer Richard Wool from the University of Delaware told the scientific community on June 23, 2009, that after his team slowly baked chicken feathers to 400 degrees and then cooled them to -266 degrees, the keratin in the feathers formed tiny, but super-strong, carbon microtubes – similar to the expensive synthetic nanotubes. Nanotubes and microtubes are important in hydrogen storage because they hold the hydrogen atoms mechanically within them. This means that the atoms are not free to bounce around in gas form, and the stored hydrogen is not governed by Boyle’s law of gasses. This makes it possible, therefore, to store hydrogen safely and cheaply, at room temperature and at low pressure. We may thus be able to build large tanks, stuff them with chicken feather charcoal and fill them up with hydrogen. Once filled, they can sit around until we need them, or they can be shipped elsewhere. And they may not need to be any more complex than the tanks we are accustomed to seeing on railroads. Imagine tons of hydrogen fuel shipped via rail across the nation, supplementing electricity grids, lighting factories, airports, universities, sports arenas, or supplying distant terminals with hydrogen for automobile consumption. All this without expensive pipelines, compressors, or refrigeration. Imagine also hydrogen standardized tanks mounted on trucks, busses, water vessels, or airplanes supplying hydrogen that can triple the power of diesel or jet fuel. And once these tanks run empty, they can be replaced with full ones – like the propane tanks of our gas grills. Imagine further, small hydrogen cartridges that can power laptops, cell phones, tools, or toys. When these run empty we can refill them with home generators using electricity or natural gas to make hydrogen. Who would have expected all these possibilities from silly chicken feathers? Or that the triple-headed hydra of air pollution, greenhouse gasses, and dependence on foreign oil would finally be killed by the waste of chickens. And consider this: If hydrogen technology continues at the same rate as computers, it may double every couple of years. This means that those at stage 4 now will be at stage 8 later. More importantly, if hydrogen takes off at the rate nuclear energy did in the ‘50s, advances would be exponential (2,4,16,256). As farfetched as this may seem, how else can we classify Dr. Wool’s findings that make a $5.5 million nanotube tank equal to a $200 chicken feather microtube tank? If this is not an exponential improvement, then what is? Whether we are ready for it or not, the Hydrogen Age seems to have finally arrived – without fanfare, and on the wings of homely chickens. -- by George Kafantaris

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