Aside from Honda, General Motors has probably been the most aggressive automaker when it comes to developing fuel cell technology in-house. The company has taken great advantage of some of the advanced manufacturing technology they have developed in producing catalytic converters for gas engined vehicles. Based on what VP of research and development and strategic planning Larry Burns has said in recent months it looks like the most important advance GM has made with fuel cells is catalyst thrifting.

The basic technology of how fuel cell stacks function is basically worked out. The biggest issue with the stack is getting the manufacturing cost down. Thrifting allows GM to apply the catalyst to the layers of the stack more uniformly while using less of the precious metals. That allow the efficiency and power density to be increased while reducing the cost dramatically. GM has already said that by 2009 they will have the cost of the their fuel cell system down to cost parity with current internal combustion engines at $50/kW.

With all of these advances GM has decided it's time to move this technology from the research side of the business over to the production side. To accomplish this GM is moving a large chunk of the people with the fuel cell expertise from their research and development group over to production engineering. Over 400 of the engineers and scientists from the company's Honeoye Falls, N.Y. facility will now report to the powertrain division to begin the production engineering while another 100 will be applying fuel cells to future production vehicles as part of the global product development teams. The remaining 150+ engineers and scientists at Honeoye Falls will stay in the research department to keep stack and hyrdrogen storage technology moving forward. The GM press release is after the jump.

[Source: General Motors] GM Prepares Fuel Cell Technology for Future Production

Aligns Fuel Cell Researchers with Company's Core Engineering Organizations

DETROIT – General Motors Corp. is moving more than 500 fuel cell experts from advanced development laboratories to core engineering functions to prepare this technology for future production.

More than 400 fuel cell engineers will report to GM's Powertrain Group to begin production engineering of fuel cell systems. Another 100 will transfer to GM's Global Product Development organization to start integrating fuel cells into future company vehicles. Finally, more than 150 fuel cell scientists and program support will remain as part of GM's Research and Development center to continue advanced research in hydrogen storage, fuel cells and program commercialization.

The transition is aimed at expediting the company's efforts to produce vehicles that displace petroleum through energy diversity.

"Eight years ago we said that hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle technology could make a major contribution to solving the energy and environmental challenges facing the automobile industry," said Larry Burns, GM Vice President, Research and Development. "Today's announcement signals another important milestone as we move fuel cell vehicles closer to future production."

GM shared details about its fifth-generation fuel cell system technology when it unveiled the fuel cell-powered E-Flex version of the Chevrolet Volt at the Shanghai Auto Show in April. This latest system is half the size of its predecessor, yet provides the same power and performance.

GM's fourth-generation system currently powers the Chevrolet Sequel and Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles. The Sequel recently went into the record books as the first electrically-driven fuel cell vehicle to achieve more than 300 miles on one tank of hydrogen, in and out of traffic on public roads, while producing zero emissions. The Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell will be launched later this year as part of Project Driveway, which will place more than 100 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with consumers in New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.

"Moving our fuel cell experts from advanced development laboratories to our core engineering organizations highlights our strong commitment to developing electrically-driven vehicles using diverse energy sources" said Tom Stephens, GM Group Vice President of Global Powertrain.

Leading the fuel cell engineering team is Dr. J. Byron McCormick, currently executive director, GM Fuel Cell Activities. He will report simultaneously to Dan Hancock, GM Powertrain Vice President, Global Engineering, and John Buttermore, GM Powertrain Vice President, Global Manufacturing. McCormick has been working on electric and fuel cell propulsion system research and development for more than 30 years. He was instrumental in the development of the EV-1 electric vehicle, and during the past 10 years, has led the GM fuel cell activities team to becoming the world's leader in fuel cell technology.

This realignment is yet another initiative in GM's commitment to displace petroleum usage in the auto industry through a range of propulsion alternatives, including:

  • E85-capable biofuel vehicles – GM is a leading producer with more than 2 million on the road today
  • GM's 2-mode hybrid system for large city buses
  • GM's Hybrid System in the Saturn Vue Green Line and Saturn Aura Green Line
  • Coming this fall, GM's 2-mode hybrid system in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-size SUVs, which provides a more than 25-percent improvement in fuel economy to what is already the industry's most fuel-efficient large SUVs, with no compromises in performance or towing capability
  • Due next year, a front-wheel-drive 2-mode Saturn Vue Green Line that is expected to deliver up to a 45-percent improvement in combined city and highway fuel economy compared with the current non-hybrid Vue, based on current federal test procedures
  • Plans to produce a plug-in version of the 2-mode hybrid Vue Green Line that has the potential to achieve double the fuel efficiency of any current SUV
Additionally, GM provides more vehicles that achieve 30 mpg on the highway than any other manufacturer in the U.S. market. GM is also the first automotive member to join the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a group of global companies and non-governmental organizations formed to support an economy-wide, market-driven approach to reducing carbon emissions.

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