General Motors Takes Next Steps Toward a Fuel Cell-Powered Vehicle for Commercial Use

New, breakthrough fuel processor 80 percent efficient plus smaller and lighter than previous versions.

Published: 16-Nov-2000

DETROIT, Nov. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- General Motors (NYSE: GM) today unveiled new advancements in fuel cell development as it moves closer to putting a fuel cell-powered vehicle on the road in 2002.

Byron McCormick, co-director of GM's Global Alternative Propulsion Center, announced GM has successfully tested its current generation gasoline fuel processor at more than 80 percent efficiency with a breakthrough catalyst system.

The catalyst will be used in the next-generation fuel processor that will be installed in a Chevrolet S-10 pickup that GM plans to demonstrate in early 2002. The processor will be 50 percent lighter, half the size of the previous generation, and capable of starting in less than three minutes, compared to the 12-15 minute start times in previous generations.

In another step toward developing fuel cell systems for commercial use by the end of this year, GM will demonstrate an integrated system with this advanced fuel processor and a fuel cell stack that produces 25 kW. GM selected the 25kW system as a learning platform, which approaches the overall efficiency requirements for automotive use.

"Make no mistake about it, we are on the path to commercialization of fuel cells," McCormick said. "But we must continue to develop the technologies. We need less costly materials that still meet the durability and the standards that customers demand. And we need a reliable and safe fuel infrastructure that will make hydrogen as readily available as gasoline is today."

Fuel cell vehicles run on electricity generated by an electrochemical process that uses hydrogen and oxygen. Fuel cells are a quiet, clean source of power, with water as the only emission.

While GM believes hydrogen is the fuel of the future, it is developing gasoline processors as a bridge between today's fuel cell cars and tomorrow's true hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The unique, new catalyst GM has developed for its gasoline fuel processor solves a problem that has plagued engineers -- how to prevent the catalyst from breaking down due to vibration during driving. In a fuel cell, the catalyst is critical because it helps convert the fuel into electricity.

The new catalyst is "supported" in a honeycomb-like device that holds it in place, preventing it from breaking down. GM has tested this system for more than 1,000 hours -- about 20 percent of the time needed for automobile applications -- with no reduction in performance.

GM expects this fuel cell system to achieve nearly 40 percent peak efficiency, nearly twice that of today's typical internal combustion engine.

GM believes gasoline fuel cells make use of an existing infrastructure and a readily available fuel supply. By using gasoline as the source of hydrogen, these environmentally sound vehicles can be in the public's hands by the end of this decade.

"Our stated goal is to put millions of fuel cell-powered vehicles on the road that customers want to buy," McCormick said. "Of the challenges that we face, I know we will deliver on the ones inside the vehicle like the cost and performance of the enabling technologies. The critical piece is the hydrogen infrastructure, because when that develops, mass commercialization will shortly follow."

General Motors has continued its leadership in fuel cell development with several recent breakthroughs, including:

* Development of a highly efficient fuel cell processor that uses gasoline as a fuel to create a high-quality stream of hydrogen to power a fuel cell.

* Start-up of a fuel cell stack at -20 degrees C, which clears a significant developmental hurdle in the evolution of fuel cell technology. Fuel cells create electricity in the presence of water, and frozen water in a fuel cell is akin to a dead battery in a conventional car.

* The HydroGen1, an Opel Zafira-based vehicle that runs on liquid hydrogen and features the auto industry's most advanced operational fuel cell stack. It achieves full power nearly 12 times faster in freezing conditions than the same design unveiled in 1999.

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