GM, Toyota Reach Agreement on Fuels for Fuel Cell Vehicles

Firms agree that hydrogen is long term fuel for fuel cells with clean hydrocarbon fuel for short- to medium-term.

Published: 08-Jan-2001

DETROIT, Jan. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- General Motors Corporation (NYSE: GM)(GM) and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) announced today specific progress on their multi-year technology agreement. This progress, which includes identification of specific fuels for fuel cell vehicles, was achieved through separate research agreements and significant technological collaboration with Exxon Mobil Corporation. Specifically, GM and TMC said:

* that they have reached agreement regarding fuels for fuel cell vehicles, with hydrogen in the long term, and a clean hydrocarbon fuel in the short- to medium-term, as the primary candidates for study; and for Japan, they also will consider natural gas in conjunction with a clean hydrocarbon fuel;

* that GM and TMC are actively testing fuel cell technologies developed by both companies individually and through the collaboration, and furthermore that they plan to share test results, ultimately selecting "best-of-the-best" ideas;

* that the two companies are supporting global and regional efforts toward the development of sustainable transportation initiatives and investigating technological capabilities of companies and institutions around the world in order to foster introduction of fuel cell technology.

TMC Executive Vice President Kato commented, "Through our collaboration on advanced technology for electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, which has been going on now for nearly two years, both companies believe that our joint activities are contributing to the development and accelerated introduction of advanced technology vehicles into the market. We believe in the importance of moving forward while taking into consideration environmental, cost and infrastructure issues, as well as consumer demands, and while cooperating with other car manufacturers, other industries and government organizations."

Larry Burns, GM vice president, GM Research & Development and Planning said, "In many ways, ideas are more valuable in the early stages of R&D than racing into production. To date, we have spent the majority of our time exchanging knowledge of technologies, sharing components and parts, and jointly evaluating fuel cell propulsion system design approaches. For an advanced technology collaboration, this pace is very aggressive."

The two companies announced the signing of a technical agreement on April 19, 1999, and outlined their efforts to speed the development of "next generation" vehicles and vehicle technology for electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.

Vision on Fuels

GM and TMC agree that hydrogen is the only fuel that has the potential to significantly increase vehicle efficiency and reduce vehicle emissions. The companies also recognize that any transition from conventional to advanced propulsion vehicles must take into account the millions of gasoline engines in existence throughout the world today. GM and TMC are working to develop strategies and fuel technologies that will allow for the coexistence of both conventional and advanced propulsion vehicles. With a new clean hydrocarbon fuel, highly efficient, environmentally-friendly fuel cell vehicles will be able to make use of fuel delivered through the existing infrastructure. The two companies are attempting to create a fuel that can be used in vehicles with either internal combustion engines or fuel cells.

Joint Research by ExxonMobil, GM and TMC

GM and TMC have each had separate technology agreements with ExxonMobil since 1995 and 1998, respectively, and the three companies have now decided to combine their research activities related to fuels for fuel cells and fuel infrastructure. With a clean hydrocarbon fuel, an on-board processor creates a high quality stream of hydrogen to power the fuel cell. GM, TMC and ExxonMobil will be testing fuel processing technologies, sharing computer simulation models, and will be sharing results developed by each of the companies through the collaboration. The research collaboration will build on previous accomplishments in the areas of transient reactor testing and models that predict fluid dynamics, fuel chemistry, and system performance.

Testing "Next Generation" Technology

GM and TMC continue to work closely on fuel cell technology. The five fuel cell teams met over 90 times last year alone, focusing on fuel cell vehicle propulsion system development, fuels and infrastructure development for fuel cell vehicles, fuel reformer (processor) technology development, fuel cell R&D and hydrogen storage materials R&D.

This approach, in effect, multiplies creativity, surfacing innovative ideas and new technologies while greatly reducing technical risk. Overall, this allows both companies to develop and evaluate fuel cell vehicles faster together. Future plans call for sharing the test results from these projects, with the idea that each company can select "best-of-the-best" technologies which meet specific vehicle and market requirements.

Leadership in the Search for Global Solutions

GM and TMC, along with several other vehicle manufacturers and energy companies, have initiated a private sector project on sustainable mobility, under the auspices of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. This project will, in part, provide a forum for discussion of a broad range of mobility-related issues, including automotive propulsion and fuels for the 21st century.

GM and TMC joined the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP) last October. The CaFCP is a public-private venture to demonstrate fuel cell vehicles in California and explore the path to commercialization. The companies believe that activities such as the Partnership aid in the development of an industry-level consensus on issues required to ensure that consumers and the environment benefit from advanced technologies.

Updating the Toyota and GM Technical Collaboration

On Advanced Technologies

Shared View: Hydrogen in the long-term, clean hydrocarbon fuel in the short- to medium-term

When hydrogen is used as the fuel for fuel cell vehicles, water is the sole product of the reaction, so this kind of vehicle is known as a zero- emissions vehicle. GM and TMC consider these vehicles to be the ultimate clean energy vehicles. Moreover, if it becomes possible in the future to commercially produce hydrogen using regenerative energy sources, such as electricity generated by solar cells used in electrolytic hydrogen production, hydrogen is expected to contribute greatly as a universal fuel, not only for use in fuel cell vehicles, but for the development of a sustainable society.

At present, however, the infrastructure has not yet been established to deliver hydrogen as a fuel for automobiles, and there are many problems that must be solved before it can be established. There are also outstanding problems with technologies for storing hydrogen in vehicles and low-cost technologies for producing hydrogen. In order to help solve these problems, GM and TMC are inviting automakers, automotive suppliers, and energy companies to work with them in order to develop global industry standards and bring the hydrogen era a step closer to reality.

It is expected that a considerable amount of time will be needed before hydrogen can be realized as a fuel option for the long term. Thus an interim fuel is sought to facilitate the short- to medium-term migration path to hydrogen. A number of fuels, including natural gas, methanol, gasoline, ethanol, DME (dimethyl ether) and naphtha, have been put forward as candidates for a short- to medium-term fuel. Among these candidates, GM and TMC have started to take a closer look at a clean hydrocarbon fuel, which has properties similar to gasoline and also has the following characteristics:

* It allows continued use of existing fuel-supply infrastructure and may be adaptable to traditional internal combustion engines

* It offers high total energy efficiency, from the extraction of petroleum to the production of hydrogen.

* It can be readily supplied throughout the world.

GM and TMC will work with other auto and energy companies to develop a clean hydrocarbon fuel over the short- to medium-term as the power source for fuel cell vehicles.

Collaboration Details

General Motors Corporation and TMC Motor Corporation, combined, represent over 25 percent of the world's production and sales of cars and trucks. Their technical collaboration on advanced technologies was the vision of Shoichiro Toyoda, TMC's honorary chairman, and John F. Smith, Jr., GM's chairman. Discussions leading to the collaboration began during the second half of 1998, and the companies announced on April 19, 1999, the signing of the agreement. The agreement outlines a five-year technical collaboration with the vision that the two companies will provide industry leadership in the development of advanced vehicle technologies benefiting the environment.

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