• Aug 11th 2009 at 11:32AM
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Chevrolet fuel cell Equinox - click above for a high-res image gallery

The current administration in Washington clearly doesn't favor the pursuit of hydrogen fuel cells, but that doesn't mean General Motors is giving up on the technology. In spite of the pending retirement of Larry Burns, VP of research and development, his replacement, Alan Taub, remains committed to bringing fuel cells to production. GM's fifth generation fuel cell stack is comparable in size to a 2.4-liter EcoTec four cylinder and far less expensive to manufacture than past iterations of the fuel cell stack.

There is still work to do, since the latest fuel cell system is about 30 percent more expensive than the Volt powertrain. Taub said GM still hopes to start series production of fuel cells by about 2012. GM is by no means alone in these efforts as Daimler, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai have all remained publicly committed to fuel cells. The big problem still remains hydrogen distribution.

[Source: Automotive News - sub req'd]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Polo... you know GM has been working on fuel cell technology for the last 12 years, right? And that their familiarity with the technology goes back to the mid 1960's?

      While it may not be "consumer ready", that doesn't mean they haven't invested the time and effort to keep up with, if not lead, the fuel-cell industry.

      • 6 Years Ago
      In the short term, hydrogen vehicles have no chance.

      Consumers are not going to switch to Hydrogen vehicles if Hydrogen costs more than gasoline and there are a limited number of filling stations.

      At last report, Hydrogen was $13 per kg. It will need to get below $5 before it can compete with gasoline.

      It will take trillions to build the infrastructure. I think that's too big a risk at today's gas prices.

      By the time gas prices are high enough, hydrogen prices are low enough, and the hydrogen infratstuctiure is big enough, Electric Vehicles will have already become main stream.
      • 6 Years Ago
      "The current administration in Washington clearly doesn't favor the pursuit of hydrogen fuel cells"

      Fortunately we still have some free enterprise in this country. Do we really want the Government picking the winners and losers in the marketplace? Based on recent history their decision making is pretty bad, how many companies have we bailed out again? If all of these auto companies are investing in H2 they must think there is a profit to be made.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "Fortunately we still have some free enterprise in this country. "

        I agree. Lets cut all federal funding for hydrogen, and let the free market decide. Can't wait to see how those "free enterprises" plan on paying nearly a Trillion for this mythical nonexistent hydrogen infrastructure.

        "If all of these auto companies are investing in H2 they must think there is a profit to be made."

        Just a couple years they were all deeply invested in low mpg SUVs too.
        • 6 Years Ago

        They haven't even begun to pay it back! Property easements for power lines and substations, hydroelectric projects, nuclear plant tech, R&D on combustion processes, solar cell research dollars, etc. And speaking of getting taxed...not only are the producers taxed (and their monopolies endorsed) but the consumers are taxed too! There is a lot of hidden costs that the public has had to pay over the years. It's all just a game where someone gets rich on the backs of others.
        • 6 Years Ago

        is there tax on electricity?

        if so, then the answer is yes...
        • 6 Years Ago

        Will the electric infrastructure be paying back their accumulated subsidies?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Charlie Brown, your hydrogen football is ready once more.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Most of the automakers seem to be committed to hydrogen and fuel cells for a reason. It WILL BE the long term solution for a new energy source for automobiles. Batteries are not.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I think fuel-cells are more useful to supplement the power grid. Drop a moderate sized fuel-cell into your local sub-station, run a natural gas line, and you have a compact, low-emission power source that can handle localized peaks in demand. Designed correctly, the CO2 emissions are minimal, and should be easily captured.

        In the long run, I think super-duper-omg-capacitor type storage will win, and we'll use all-electric vehicles, but the breakthrough hasn't happened yet (unless EEStor really is more secretive than the Manhattan project).
        • 6 Years Ago
        "LOL since when did the automakers become reliable oracles of the future?? Weren't they JUST bailed out to avoid a complete catastrophic bankruptcy?? What was their reason for being committed to poor efficiency SUVs for so long?"

        polo I don't recall Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford and Daimler getting any bailouts. As for why ALL automakers made SUVs, it's becuase people wanted them, and bought them in huge numbers, people still do. Auto companies are not charities, they are in it for a profit.
        • 6 Years Ago
        No, they're just used to 8 years of generous grants for hydrogen tech thanks to GW and they don't want to throw the towel in 8 months into a new admin. Give it another year.

        -"Most of the automakers seem to be committed to hydrogen and fuel cells for a reason."

        LOL since when did the automakers become reliable oracles of the future?? Weren't they JUST bailed out to avoid a complete catastrophic bankruptcy?? What was their reason for being committed to poor efficiency SUVs for so long? They are making this decision because they are scared sh!tless about the future so they're playing all cards...and over-leveraging themselves in the process.

        -"It WILL BE the long term solution for a new energy source for automobiles. Batteries are not."

        Hydrogen fuel cells = 3x less efficient, significantly more expensive, prohibitively high infrastructure development costs. When the average EV has a 300mile range (say about 3-5 years) there will no reason or justification for anyone to buy a hydrogen car - even if they are priced the same, electricity will still be cheaper.

        Do you know what it would take to develop the hydrogen infrastructure? A spending bill almost as big as the Stimulus...from a President that is set against hydrogen..in a political environment where rethugs complain that a $3billion-dollar car rebate program is going to bankrupt America. For what it would cost to develop this infrastructure, Obama could fully fund his high-speed rail program. NOT.GOING. TO. HAPPEN.
        • 6 Years Ago
        This is the kind of one-sided discussion that will never allow anyone to make any progress. We need BOTH batteries and hydrogen fuel cells to create the cars of the future. Anyone who only advocates one is missing half of the solution. They both supply electricity to an electric motor, are complementary and each have unique benefits to be exploited.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I am still glad that the car companies are exploring more than one form of alternative propulsion. Hydrogen might still have some niche applications that make a lot of sense. Also, as more is learned about the technology involved in hydrogen fuel cells there may be other discoveries made that would not have been found otherwise!

      • 6 Years Ago
      Yeah, I was wondering about that figure, too. What was it based on?

      It couldn't be based on the price of actual H2 fuel cells being sold on the open market, at the current price of $4k per Kw, a barely adequate 80 Kw fuel cell would cost $320,000.

      Doubt it is based on actual production by GM, they have the same material costs that result in $4k per K fuel cells from other companies. Platinum and Nafion is just as expensive for GM as it is for everyone else.

      So, it is probably based on the DOE estimates that assume a dramatically lower cost would result from the magic of mass production. Problem is, those figures are well below the cost of materials needed, thus they are totally bogus. Those figures were created with the goal of keeping the Hydrogen Hype going and the research grants flowing.

      Of course, even if GM has make several radical breakthroughs in fuel cells that they haven't announced, and those figures are somehow realistic, it still means that H2FC vehicles cost quite a bit more than equivalent EVs or PHEVs. With the high cost of H2 fuel and the lack of H2 facilities, H2FCVs still won't be competitive in 2012 or 2015.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The oil industry want to reap the benefits of H2 but don't want to invest anything. They want the feds (aka taxpayer) to pick up the tab.

      Even if automakers can sell the cars for less than 20k and even if H2 can be sold at $3 a gallon, you still need an infrastructure and that would cost billions if not more.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ok, so I play the fool on this one since there seems to be a lot of banter going on... If a major switch was made in our fuel source for trucking from diesel to natural gas, then what exactly would the point be to switch again from natural gas->hydrogen? What advantage does hydrogen have for powering a vehicle over natural gas? Hydrogen vehicles (ie Honda FCX Clarity) seem to be an order of magnitude more expensive than the only commercially available natural gas vehicle (Honda Civic GX). If you are using Natural Gas as a source for Hydrogen, extra steps are required (ie extra cost), so what exactly is the point? Am I missing something? Getting trucks to run on Natural Gas would seem like a better endpoint than carrying it on further to Hydrogen... Educate me... (paging Greg Blencoe!)
        • 6 Years Ago
        Fuel cells burning hydrogen, maybe reformed on board, are a lot more efficient than present trucks, although maybe not than more advanced ICE vehicles.
        The Volvo prototypes seem to be concentrating on fuel flexibility - once you have the hydrogen, it doesn't matter where it comes from.
        They are particularly interested in DME, which they are in advanced prototype work to obtain from forest waste.
        Scooters in China are frequently run on DME.
        As for the cost difference, things have moved on from the Clarity.
        GM now say that their fc car would only need to be around 30% more expensive than the all-battery Volt at the moment - and things are obviously in swift development.
        Toyota think that they can be competitive with petrol cars by 2015.
        AT the moment there is a lot of work going on taking the cost out of fc's.
        You can't judge the eventual cost of a technology by early prototypes like the Clarity.
        They just get something going in the Lab to prove the basic technology works.
        We are now at the stage of refining it, mainly by reducing the amounts of precious metals needed.
        They have done brilliantly so far, and can see ways of continuing progress.
        Of course, it is always possible that they may hit a major stumbling block, just as that is possible although perhaps unlikely in battery technology.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Yeah..if I was an investor I'd be a little worried about this. GM is not the position to be overextending themselves on two brand new technologies. If they're worried about the profitibility of the Volt.....then what do they expect to do with a car thats even more expensive with a thoroughly non-existest refueling infrastructure? This hydrogen program can't be cheap. I'd be pulling my money out of them at this point because I foresee big loses when these go into series production.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is the kind of wasteful behavior that makes me NOT want to BUY from GM!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Your comment makes no sense, except that "you don't like GM". What wasteful behavior?

        I mean, just because GM has been working with fuel cells longer than anyone else...

        Personally, I'm astonished that they've made the progress they've made. Assume, for a moment, that the Volt powertrain is around $20k ($8k for battery stack, $7k for motor, $5k for generator), then that means they've got fuel cell cost below $30k... and that's something I didn't think would happen for another 10+ years.

        Personally, I still don't think fuel cells are the way forward for cars, but for car charging, certainly. That electricity -> hydrogen -> electricity -> motor chain doesn't make as much sense as electricity -> battery -> motor, at least to me.
        • 6 Years Ago
        GM has to do because Toyota does and they don't want to be down like hybrids times (missing the boat ).

        But i have 2 questions for GM:
        1) As per some company i herd today market making Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is 50,000 dollars . do you mean a 25k hydrogen car is not going to be there in near future ? do scale of economies work for GM ?

        2) Toyota always PR with numbers on mpg - what are the numbers for GM fuel cell vehicles ( fuel economy numbers )
      • 6 Years Ago
      The infrastructure problem could be tackled due to rising oil prices.
      At the moment according to the IEA we are not investing nearly enough to maintain supplies.
      So whenever the world economy recovers, oil will go stratospheric.
      Bad enough for car drivers, but how do trucks get the goods around?
      You can't power long distance trucks by batteries, so natural gas or hydrogen is the only answer.
      Bulky, but do-able, and quicker than increasing the rail network.
      Trucks might use on-board reformers, as Volvo is investigating, but for cars once the natural gas is at the station then it could be reformed on-site.
      For folk like me, the fuel cell volt would be pretty much the ideal vehicle:
      Note that this is a plug in with a range of around 20 miles, so as long as you don't go more than 20 miles to work or the shops you could plug it in for the return journey if you use a 220Volt connection so it is faster than 110V.
      OTOH you would have no worries about running out, and can drive anywhere.
      'The hydrogen Volt would get 300 miles on four kilograms of hydrogen'
      A kg of hydrogen equates to around 1 gallon of petrol, so you are getting 75 to the gallon!
      The relative inefficiency of producing hydrogen compared to electricity would not seem to me to be a problem under this scenario, as for many most of their mileage would be on the battery.
      In a fuel cell plug-in you have left behind all the complexities of the mechanical/battery hybrid - you are running on electrons all the time.
      Bring on the cost reductions, GM. Toyota and the rest!
      Some here seem to think that all the car-makers are idiots.
      Bringing down the cost of the fc variant to within 30% of the Volt battery hybrid proves that they are far from that.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "You can't power long distance trucks by batteries", yes you can... It would be expensive, but not as expensive as powering them with Hydrogen. You are right though, long range battery electric trucks don't make sense, we should use trains for that, but you would rather inefficient truck (as opposed to trains) running on an inefficient fuel (hydrogen as opposed to grid electricity) taking up space on the roads. You could build a full robust nation wide electric train system for a lot less than a hydrogen infostructure.

        Oil is not going to disappear over night. We have time to transition with vehicles like the Volt. Would you really rather a car that goes 20 or 40 miles and then is dead because you can't find a hydrogen station over a car that can go 40 miles and then use some gasoline when you occasionally go over. Obviously, hydrogen vehicles don't make sense until we have the infostructure. 20 years from now, when batteries cost less than 1/5 of what they cost today, hydrogen won't make sense even if they bring the cost down and we have an infostructure. Hydrogen is a stopgap technology to hold us over until batteries are ready. They only problem is that batteries are way ahead of hydrogen, so at no point in time will hydrogen make sense.

        • 6 Years Ago
        Serge, ideally we might like to take our time and roll out the right technology.
        As I wrote to Steve, IMO we don't have time and things are going to get really sticky, due to both an economic crunch and an oil crunch.
        So for the States it might not be optimum for the long term but they have got natural gas which it seems to me likely that they will turn to.
        In Europe and the East things are different, and with the shorter distances most need to travel I see many turning to electric NEV's, as full EV's are likely to be too expensive for most.
        That is why I was so disappointed with the Nissan Leaf, as they use Lithium Manganese batteries good for only around 450 recharges.
        Lithium Iron Phosphate should be good for at least 2,000 charges, maybe 8,000
        Short battery life increases costs greatly.
        I'm not so sure that all the work on fc's is concentrated on hydrogen.
        The link to the Volvo trucks I gave earlier made clear that they are focussing on on-board reformers.
        The real reason why there has been that focus on hydrogen though is that it is the easier target for initial work, as you have to end up with hydrogen in the end for the fuel cell to use.
        I'm not sure about solid oxide fuel cells, but for automative use they are at an earlier stage.
        Personally I think that we could just factory build liquid fluoride thorium reactors and have cheap energy from a concentrated source a lot easier than low density renewables, but that would require some constructive technological endeavour and a can-do attitude, which we seem to be short of:

        If you fancy renewables though producing DME from wind or whatever is about the best way of getting better utilisation factors.
        It is still the devil's own job to organise though, as you have production capacity for the DME only being used intermittently when there is spare power.
        Maybe geothermal is a better bet, but then you might as well use nuclear as plenty of radon comes up out of the ground with the water if it is radiation you are worried about.
        • 6 Years Ago
        if you are running trucks on natural gas then you have already rolled out half the infrastructure you need for hydrogen, as you could reform it at the gas station, so the whole process takes on logical, incremental form.
        I am not a great fan of shipping the hydrogen around anyway - those hydrogen molecules are elusive little blighters, and anyway we already have a natural gas network which could be extended rather than starting afresh.
        Volvo seems to think that we will not always, or for long, be limited to 80k mile fc's:
        I am also very interested in Sweden's efforts to use Dimethyl Ether:
        OK, the well-to-wheels efficiency is still around the same as hydrogen, but it is much more storable and transportable, and can be made off peak by nuclear reactors or wind, so on occasion you are almost getting 'something for nothing'!

        I am familiar with the exciting work on air lithium batteries that has just made the news - very exciting, and that is exactly my point, that I see battery and fuel cell technology as being complementary, not opposed, and melding into each other.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The natural gas might well be carried as LNG - much more concentrated and practical.
        The Volvo trucks are working with lots of fuels, including DME and are working at getting them from things like biogas - see my links earlier.
        China already uses DME in scooters etc - they seem to have managed the roll-out, but maybe only in cities.
        Reformer weight is less of a problem in trucks, of course, but you can also reform at the filling station for cars, so there are a lot of options besides pumping hydrogen around the place, including partial reformation, and using petrol and reforming it on the spot - you still get better mileage putting it through a fc rather than an ICE, although maybe not very advanced ICE motors.
        Truth to tell, we are pretty much still at the chaotic, early stages of figuring out what to use - rather like at the beginning of the 20th century.
        I don't think it will happen in an elegant,planned way though, but in a bunch of stop-gap measures, varying from country to country.
        If we really are in for a much more serious financial crunch maybe starting around this fall and then later chaos in the oil markets in around 5 years then the big winners and the bit I can see clearly now at least are electric bikes, tricycles, NEVs etc.
        They will win in any case, as even if the US and perhaps Europe gets by, they are going to be as popular in the rest of the World as they are in China today, with tens of millions sold now and hundreds of millions in the future.
        We may be plugging in the same modest gear!
        • 6 Years Ago
        On-board reforming natural gas to hydrogen has some serious drawbacks. It adds weight (I don't know how much) and means you have to pressurize the hydrogen on-board, which means you have to sit there with the natural gas line connected for hours. Look at tankless home filling stations for natural gas vehicles for comparable times.

        If you are right that we don't have time to transition, natural gas internal combustion would work as a stopgap technology before electric is ready to replace 100% of fossil fuel vehicles.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I meant to add:
        It was interesting that Toyota said they were intending to roll-out a fc car by around 2015 and weren't worried about a hydrogen infrastructure being ready.
        Perhaps they are hinting that they are planning on doing on-board reforming?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Sean, I agree with your comments about rail, in fact I particularly like this system here:

        As I said to Serge, I don't expect to see a hydrogen infrastructure rolled out, at least in the States, but a natural gas infrastructure, later getting reformers at the filling stations.

        The reason for this is that I disagree about the likely availability of oil.
        Not that it will suddenly stop, but shortages will be severe and ongoing, and costs subject to large spikes.
        There are three reasons for this:
        Not enough money is being invested, so as soon as recovery sets in shortages will occur.
        It takes around a decade at least to do much about that, so that is the minimum period that the problem will last.
        But it is much worse than that, as all the cheap, readily accessible oil is rapidly being used up, so prices will need to rise a lot to reflect that.
        Possibly the largest single issue though is that demand from many nations, from China and India to the oil producers themselves, is rising very rapidly, so the percentage that Western counties will be able to get will be much lower than in the past.
        Supply is not going to climb in the same manner, and is likely to be static at best, so continuing shortages and far higher prices than today can be expected, the IEA reckons from about 2014, depending on when the world economy recovers
        So the upshot is that I think we hit real problems in 5 years or so, and don't have 20 years grace to get things together.
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