General Motors' Next Generation Of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

March 17, 2010
EPA joins GM's Project Driveway fuel cell test

EPA joins GM's Project Driveway fuel cell test

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General Motors launched "Project Driveway" nearly two years ago, putting 119 Americans in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., behind the wheel of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Since that time, GM has refined its fuel cell technology, and the automaker has recently begun testing a new system that's about the size of a regular, four-cylinder engine -- making it half the size of the one that sits in Project Driveway's current fleet of Chevrolet Equinox vehicles. Even better: that smaller, lighter system could be put into production as soon as 2015. Less better: there's a lot of emphasis on the word "could".

Over its 30 months, Project Driveway's hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have traveled about 1.3 million miles on U.S. roads. Now, that program is winding down, but Charles Freese, executive director of GM's Global Fuel Cell Activities, says that Project Driveway's test vehicles will remain in use, receiving upgrades and being studied even as GM shifts its attention to the smaller, second-generation engines. The first driver of the new vehicles will be Stephanie White (pictured above), a participant in Project Driveway and an advocate for fuel cell vehicles.

However, as encouraging as GM's continued study of hydrogen technology may be, it's important to note that GM isn't fully committing to a commercially available fuel cell vehicle by 2015. The company's new fuel cell system is called "production-intent", and in its press release about the matter, GM says that "with proper fueling infrastructure, hydrogen fuel cells are a viable alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles" (emphasis ours). In other words, there are a number of obstacles standing between consumers and fuel cell vehicles, and GM won't launch full-scale production until they've been sufficiently addressed.

The largest of those obstacles would seem to be the hydrogen infrastructure. As colleague John Voelcker and others have mentioned, the cost of building a hydrogen fueling station is around $2 million, and with 12,000 - 15,000 needed to make fueling convenient for the majority of U.S. drivers, that makes for a minimum investment of $24 billion. To be fair, that isn't an overwhelming figure, given the scope and impact of the project, and given the fact that the money would likely come from multiple sources, including automakers, fuel companies, and the feds. But today, as America and other countries struggle to climb out of the Great Recession, it's still a pretty high price tag.

For those who'd like to read GM's full press release, we've posted it below.

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GM's Fuel Cell System Shrinks in Size, Weight, Cost

Testing Under Way on Production-Intent System for 2015 Commercialization

Burbank, Calif. - General Motors Co. is testing a production-intent hydrogen fuel cell system that can be packaged in the space of a traditional four-cylinder engine and be ready for commercial production in 2015.

The system is half the size, 220 pounds lighter and uses about a third of the platinum of the system in the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicles used in Project Driveway, the world's largest market test and demonstration fleet of fuel cell electric vehicles that began in late 2007 and has amassed nearly 1.3 million miles of everyday driving in cities around the world.

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