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Byron McCormick is executive director of General Motor's Fuel Cell Activities. AutoblogGreen sat down with McCormick during a break at the recent Sequel drive for journalists in Southern California. In this first of a 2-part interivew, McCormick discusses the advantages of hydrogen and what consumers may expect when GM offers a production fuel-cell vehicle.

AutoblogGreen:
Since electricity is needed to produce hydrogen, wouldn't it be a better model to put the electricity directly into the car and skip the fuel-cell process?

McCormick: We started with an electric vehicle with the EV1, so we know a lot about that. The real issue about putting electricity directly into a car is how good can the battery be? With available technologies, you have limited capability to get range. At the end of the day we don't discount the idea of electric cars, it all depends on how far battery technology gets. Once you go to the architecture we talked about today, you basically have an electric vehicle. As batteries come along, the ability to put more batteries in there will make it a plug-in.

AutoblogGreen: A critic might ask, had GM dedicated the money it's spending on hydrogen toward battery development, would you be at the point today that you could have enough power and charge?

McCormick: Batteries will always be somewhat limited in what you can do. Nice thing about a fuel cell is that it's really the same thing as a battery except you've taken the chemicals outside. If I want more energy, I want to go further, I add storage and the fuel cell stays the same. With a battery, you add more and more batteries. The idea that all cars can go electric is not a viable answer in the future. But there are a lot of niche markets where batteries are an interesting alternative.

AutoblogGreen: Is the Gen IV powertrain what we'll see in the 2010 Sequel?

McCormick: No, what's in the Sequel now is, as I stand here today, old technology. The 100 vehicles that we'll release next year (Equinox), that's the same technology that's in the current Sequel. The reason for that was all the crash testing and all the development we had to do with suppliers. There is no supply base out there for this stuff, so we knew we had a longer period of time where the suppliers had to learn what we demand.

AutoblogGreen: What will we see when we walk into our Chevy dealer in 2010?

McCormick: If they told me today to freeze technology and go for 2010, what I showed in a mockup (facsimile rendition of fuel cell that was about the size of a 4-cylinder engine) is more like it. The weight would be about that of an internal combustion engine and transmission and the volume could be packaged in a conventional car.

AutoblogGreen: On the skateboard platform, is there a limit to the size of a vehicle?

McCormick: Where that skateboard is really going is to electric corners to have wheel motors at four corners, which frees up more space. There are a lot of design flexibilities.

AutoblogGreen: Today's vehicles have gotten incredibly heavy. How are you addressing mass in fuel cell vehicles?

McCormick: We're well on our way with that. The compressed tanks will still be a little bit heavy but nothing to the extent we're talking about with the Equinox.

AutoblogGreen: Are there any more promising storage solutions coming down the road?

McCormick: There are whole classes of materials that we're working on.

AutoblogGreen: Would that require a change in the infrastructure?

McCormick: Eventually.

Tomorrow: McCormick discusses the hydrogen infrastructure, who will be the first customers and fuel-cell maintenance.

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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 4 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      Battery tech steadily evolves thanks to the increased power needs of laptop computers, their capacity have doubled in the last 10 years alone. There are other emerging technologies that will more than double their capacity in the next 10 years.

      Tesla motors just proved that you can make a car go 250 miles with what is considered already "old" Li-Ion battery tech, in 10 years that range will surely be at least 500 miles.

      How many people on this planet actually drive more than 500 miles a day??

      ANY source that produces electricity can be used to power your car, why limit it to hydrogen?

      Fuelcell tech for cars is a dead end. It's complicated, much less efficient than a purely electric car, and lets not forget how many gas stations would have to be converted to store hydrogen. That step alone would take at least 5-10 years worldwide. So even if you do manage to bring down the cost of hydrogen, find efficient ways of transporting it, storing it... battery tech would already have surpassed you.

      WHAT IS THE POINT???
      • 8 Years Ago
      "With available technologies, you have limited capability to get range." -- McCormick

      If you are limited to a straight EV, that is true. If, however, you add a small diesel generator, you can easily achieve a 300 or 400 mile range with a much smaller battery/supercap pack.

      Then you can leave out the hydrogen part, and achieve much better economy, simplicity, convenience, and safety. Not to mention you'd actually be 'green', provided you burn B100 or SVO in that diesel.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I agree with the comment about all electric. See www.teslamotors.com. I am encouraged by McCormick's statement about leaving the options open to use the same control and structure but replace the fuel cell and hydrogen tanks with batteries when the battery technology is good enough. www.altairnano.com has long life and safe batteries now but still not enough power. www.polyplus.com and others have prommising future technology that will put to rest all concerns about lack of battery power. Bush will be wasteing hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars putting in hydrogen charging stations that will never be used. The government will have to find another way to collect road tax like adding it to your licence renewal. Right now tax comes out of the gasoline, and I am afraid that the government wants to keep us going to the pump for that reason.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Not only that, if you put that small diesel generator (plug-in series hybrid configuration), fuel tank, and batteries in the same volume and weight as a 4-cylinder engine, transmission, and hydrogen fuel tank (as described in the interview of how much space and weight the fuel cell takes up), you could easily achieve more range and higher overall efficiency than the hydrogen fuel cell.

      Building a fast electric charging station (like they use for airport equipment) infrastructure is just as easy or easier than building a hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

      Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles really have a more niche application than pure battery cars, and way more niche than a plug-in series hybrid that burns fossil/bio fuel.