• 70
GM next generation and current fuel cell stacks - Click above for high-res image gallery

In spite of the cuts at General Motors over the past year, work has continued in the powertrain labs at the Warren, MI tech center on hydrogen fuel cells. Back in 2007, GM shifted much of its fuel cell work from the Honeoye Falls, NY research facility to the production engineering group in Warren. The result is the fifth-generation fuel cell stack shown above on the left. The unit on the right is the stack from the fuel cell Equinoxes that are running as part of Project Driveway in California, New York and Washington, DC. The new generation unit matches the 93 kW output of the Equinox unit but occupies the same volume as the 2.4-liter EcoTec four cylinder.

GM has engineered this new stack specifically with the aim of making it producable in volume at a much lower cost than previous designs. That means it gets a cast case with integrated cooling passages and other subsystems. One of the highest cost elements of a fuel cell stack is the platinum used as a catalyst. Read on after the jump.


Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

The fourth-gen stack in the Equinox uses 80 g of platinum while the new stack uses just 30 g. This new stack is due for production in volumes of up to 10,000 units a year by the middle of the next decade. In the subsequent iteration, GM plans to have the platinum content down to under 10 g, which would put it on a par with current catalytic converters.



Other areas where the engineers have optimized the new stack are the subsystems like the hydrogen injector. They have gone from a massive unit about the size of a text book to a much smaller unit similar in size to a current fuel injector. Not only is the new unit smaller and lighter, it is much less expensive to make.

GM's Project Driveway field test has now been running for almost two years and there are about 116 Equinoxes on the road in the U.S. and Europe. The drivers operating these fuel cell crossovers have now accumulated almost a million miles and the engineers continue to optimize the control software. The result is that the durability of the stack has been significantly improved from the original 50,000 miles to over 80,000 miles. In addition, the range of the Equinox has climbed from the original 160 miles to over 200 miles. Between GM, Daimler, Toyota and Honda, there has been a lot of progress on automotive fuel cells. Now, if only they could do something about that pesky problem of finding hydrogen.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 70 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Once again, I have to ask. What advantage does a fuel cell vehicle have to offer over a straight natural gas powered vehicle? A Nat Gas vehicle is currently available (Honda Civic GX), way cheaper (Honda FCX), and doesn't require an extra step of converting natural gas to hydrogen. Natural Gas is available just about everywhere right now, so.... What is the rational for using a fuel cell over straight natural gas?

      Anyone?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Correct, Geronimo, but you didn't include the energy losses inherent in the steam reforming process, or compressional losses, or the efficiency of the fuel cell itself.

        Figuring 70% efficiency for steam refueling of natural gas, 10% compression energy loss for storage, 60% efficiency for the fuel cell, and 95% for electric motor, overall efficiency is 36% - higher than the 15% to 25% for IC and up to 35% for hybrids, but not by much.

        It is difficult to justify the several times higher price, given the relatively modest economy improvement.

        One possible alternative is Solid Oxide fuel cells that can run directly on natural gas, no H2, no reforming needed. That would avoid the reforming losses, thus achieving higher efficiency, and natural gas is much easier to store than H2. The potential problems there are the high prices and the high operating temperatures needed for solid oxide fuel cells.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The newest electric motors (e.g 3-phase perm mag asynchronus) achieve an efficiency of =/> 98%. The Fraunhofer Institution in Germany managed to develop a DC / AC converter, integrating silicon carbide JFET solid state devices, which rates at 99.2% efficiency.
        Take a generous drop of 3% for these two system components and you have 97% remaining. Consider that the rest of the switching gear in an electric car account for futher 2% losses. That leaves a remaining 95% system efficiency! An ICE will never, in the boldest of dreams, even remotely approach this number.
        In the late fifties of the last century, I learned the importance of conservation of the environment, resources and energy in school. By the way, did you happen to attend one.
        The ICE is a relict of the technical "stone age" and has by far exceeded its right to existence. I have no pity neither for the oil industry nor for the OPEC. I hope that these words contribute to a clarification to any remaining doubts you may have had.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The only presently known method of storing sufficient hydrogen quantities at normal pressure and temperature to achieve appropriate mileage with a Fuel Cell is to synthesize Silane-Oil. Future development may improve but at present nothing tops Silane-Oil.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Just a thought out there for people on the battery EV vs. fuel-cell EV divide:

      What if H2 storage wound up being better in terms of energy density than batteries?

      Most fuel-cells (at least the ones I've played with as a kid) can reform H2 and O2 from water when they have a current applied to them. What if the "exhaust" from the fuel-cell was captured in a tank, and reversed back to H2/O2 when plugged in at night? Wouldn't that help alleviate the "range anxiety" linked to current batteries?

      Arguably, the efficiencies aren't there yet vs. battery EV's (higher energy consumption with on-board H2 generation, etc). I'd argue research like this could potentially change that.
        • 5 Years Ago
        While there are "reversible fuel cells" that can electrolyze water, they aren't being considered for automotive use, as that would also require a compressor for storage, and the efficiency is much lower that just using batteries.

        Since all H2FC vehicles require batteries to start up and run things until the fuel cell can warm up and start working, and also supply extra power when needed, it makes much more sense to use batteries for regenerative energy storage, instead of H2.

        Indeed, GM plans to make their future H2FC vehicle a plug-in hybrid with a big battery, and the H2 fuel cell relegated to "range extender" usage for long trips only. If Project Better Place can roll out their battery swap stations before the H2 refueling is in place, then H2FCVs won't stand a chance, being more expensive, running on more expensive H2 fuel, and taking longer to "recharge"!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Yeah, yeah. I'm sure that, along with the fool-cell vehicle itself, General Murders will include a hydrogen percolator to install in your garage, powered by solar cells on your roof, right? All for less that $50K, correct?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm sure they will. Just like how Honda includes a free garage-sized refinery with all their current cars.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Has Honda actually delivered its Home Energy Station to any Clarity test driver? The last update on Honda's site is from November 2007.

        It sounds promising: "a home using Home Energy Station IV to help produce heat and electricity and also to refuel an FCX Clarity can reduce CO2 emissions by an estimated 30 percent and energy costs by an estimated 50 percent. "

        but show us the reality!

        Also, efficiently using free waste heat in your home is surprisingly challenging and expensive. I have solar heating tubes on my roof and it heats my hot water reasonably well, but trying to plumb it into my radiant home heating as well has been a mis-functioning nightmare of controllers, pipes, pumps, valves.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Looks well enough sized to drop into a Gen III Volt.
        • 5 Years Ago
        That's the plan exactly, that way GM can use the least powerful least expensive fuel cell possible as a "range extender" only, with most of the power coming from the battery. Also, most local driving will be done on much less expensive electricity instead of H2, reducing operating costs.

        Of course, I suspect most people will prefer EVs and more conventional PHEVs, and H2FCVs will go the way of Betamax and 8 track cartridges, withering away from lack of market share.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It suddenly occurred to me another reason why GM is going "plug-in" for their H2FC project. Short running lifespan of the fuel cell! If it only lasts 80,000 miles when used as the main power supply, that simply isn't long enough and GM would loose big bucks in warranty replacements in just a few years. But if almost all the local driving is done using batteries only, the "H2 Volt" could go for months without using the fuel cell.

        If 3/4 of the driving is done "battery only" without the H2 fuel cell running, then that automatically quadruples the effective lifespan to about 320,000 miles, well past the warranty expiration. It would then be the future "used H2 Volt" driver that would be stuck with the replacement bill. Hmm, maybe they'd just chuck the H2 part and go all electric...
      • 5 Years Ago
      The rapid improvement in the GM fuel cell technology is indeed impressive. Toyota is even further ahead with their hydrogen fuel cell technology.

      Check out the following post...

      7 reasons to love Toyota hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

      1. 431-mile real-world driving range with Toyota FCHV-adv (mid-size SUV) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (See YouTube video below)

      2. 68.3 real-world miles per kilogram fuel economy with Toyota FCHV-adv (See YouTube video below)

      3. Ability to operate in temperatures as low as minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 degrees Celsius)

      4. Irv Miller, TMS group vice president, environmental and public affairs made the following comment on August 6th:

      “In 2015, our plan is to bring to market a reliable and durable fuel cell vehicle with exceptional fuel economy and zero emissions, at an affordable price.”

      5. Masatami Takimoto, a Toyota executive vice president and board member, made the following comment in January at the North American International Auto Show:

      “By 2015, we will have a full-fledged commercialization effort.”

      6. The Toyota FCHV-adv (Highlander) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has the same trunk and passenger space as the gasoline-powered version.

      Click on the following link to see a picture of the trunk in the Toyota FCHV-adv hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

      7. Here is a comment made by Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager-Toyota Technical Center, in a Ward’s Automotive article (subscription required) that was published on July 16th:

      “We have some confidence the vehicle released around 2015 is going to have costs that are going to be shocking for most of the people in the industry. They are going to be very surprised we were able to achieve such an impressive cost reduction.”

      http://hydrogendiscoveries.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/7-reasons-to-love-toyota-hydrogen-fuel-cell-vehicles/

      Greg Blencoe
      Chief Executive Officer
      Hydrogen Discoveries, Inc.
        • 5 Years Ago
        And the FCHV can be yours for a low, low lease price of $7,700 a month!

        http://green.autoblog.com/2008/09/02/toyota-to-start-leasing-fuel-cell-vehicle-in-japan/#comments

        Give it up, Greg.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Greg you still have to convince people that following is acceptable. You need energy to extract H2 from a fuel, then compress it, transport it, store it on-site, re-compress it, trasfer it in a car which will use the H2 to recharge a battery to drive the car. Instead of just storing energy from the grid to a battery to drive a car.

        Even if H2 was free it would still be less efficent when compared to ordinary electric.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "1. 431-mile real-world driving range with Toyota FCHV-adv (mid-size SUV) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (See YouTube video below)"

        Irrelevant, because there is no hydrogen distribution infrastructure.

        "2. 68.3 real-world miles per kilogram fuel economy with Toyota FCHV-adv (See YouTube video below)"

        Irrelevant, because there is no hydrogen distribution infrastructure.

        "3. Ability to operate in temperatures as low as minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 degrees Celsius)"

        Irrelevant, because there is no hydrogen distribution infrastructure.

        "4. Irv Miller, TMS group vice president, environmental and public affairs made the following comment on August 6th:.."

        Irrelevant, because noone can ride on plans.

        "5. Masatami Takimoto, a Toyota executive vice president and board member, made the following comment in January at the North American International Auto Show:..."

        Probably just another lie. We have been listening those for more than 40 years now.

        "6. The Toyota FCHV-adv (Highlander) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has the same trunk and passenger space as the gasoline-powered version."

        Irrelevant, because there is no hydrogen distribution infrastructure.

        "7. Here is a comment made by Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager-Toyota Technical Center, in a Ward’s Automotive article (subscription required) that was published on July 16th:..."

        See 5.

        ---

        "Now, if only they could do something about that pesky problem of finding hydrogen."

        They couldn't. To achieve this, they have to change the law of physics.
      • 5 Years Ago
      68 mpg with free fuel without pollution for a truck of this size and power is reasonnable if you compare it to the gasoline version that get maybe 18-20 mpg with high fuel price and pollution. 10 grams of platinum is not necessary in fuelcell and catalytic converters, this is a gimmick of security by the same folks that exploded the wtc in 2001. Car manufacturers receive some money under the table for this and for suffocating people with diesel and gasoline, that's why they refuse to sell this simple and cheaper technology. Hydrogen gas cost something like 10 cents a gallon, all it need is some simple technology feed by little electricity and water, then it goes back to water.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Although I usually just ignore your idiotic comments Gorr, this one is just too moronic not to make fun of.

        Platinum a gimmick... right. So is gravity actually. Those oil companies keep up the gravity lie to keep us earth-bound so we can't just fly around instead of using oil powered cars. FIGHT THE MACHINE!!!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Mark@5:

      "You need energy to extract H2 from a fuel"

      This is strictly true only if you define water as a fuel. It's most common right now to generate H2 by reforming methane or some other hydrocarbon gas wit steam, but if you have a handy electric power source, you can electrolyse water to get it, too.

      Which, frankly, makes more sense than wasting chemical feedstocks that would be better used elsewhere. Also, you need either available hydropower or nuclear, although there are some photovoltaic systems than can do the job on the cell in lab demonstrations.

      "tra[n]sfer it in a car which will use the H2 to recharge a battery to drive the car."

      While you *can* go that way, there is no reason why a fuel cell system can't drive the motor(s) directly.

      A lot of your argument depends on things never changing from current practice, frankly.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It is more correct to say that energy is needed to produce H2 fuel. That energy can come from a chemical source like a fossil fuel or a reactive metal, or the energy can come from electricity. The "Hydrogen Hyway" plan calls for most H2 to be produced by steam reforming of natural gas and coal, as that is cheaper than electrolysis.

        H2 fuel cells work best with a fairly constant power output, while a car power demands are highly variable. The answer is to use a fuel cell sized for average power demand, and use batteries to supply extra power for peak acceleration and to store excess power during decelleration and stopping. For that reason, all H2FCVs have a large battery pack.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Do this: Install a mini nuclear reactor at every gas station and electrolize hydrogen and add some electricity to the grid while you're at it.

      Oh quit worrying about nukes - all the cool ships use it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        well - somebody should be able to figure out the security for this situation - I guess the more logical thing is to put lots of secure nuclear plants all over the place - the gas station model might not be quite the thing.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Those "cool ships" belong to a military of one government or another. I suppose we could have the military running the H2 dispensers, if you didn't mind a tripling of the already high H2 fuel prices... Military groups aren't known for keeping costs down.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Is Al Qaeda real? If so, can't do nuclear at the corner gas station.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think gas stations with on-site hydrogen hydrolosis could be big. I'm actually a battery EV fan, but for long distances, battery EVs will never make sense from what I can tell.

      Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could fuel up at stations with on-site H2 generation (from electricity) and thus fuel cell vehicles and battery EVs could share most of the same infrastructure. It'd be up to the customer to decide whether they want battery EV or fuel cell. Clearly long-haul trucks would use fuel cell, and with the distances they travel, it'd not only refuel faster, but be cheaper than the huge amount of batteries they'd need for their range.

      Personally, I love the idea of not having to stop at the gas station once a week, so I like batteries. But more consumer choice would speed the adoption of this new, non-ICE situation.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The issue for FCV trucks *is* power, because fuel cells are priced by the watt. The FCHV-adv is a rare example of an FCV with an unsubsidized lease. That lease amount? $8,000 a month. A 30-ton cargo hauler would need a stack 10-20 times as expensive as the FCHV-adv's stack.

        And nice glass house to criticize the E30 with, given that there are NO FCVs that come even remotely close to it in terms of cargo capabilities. The E30 has the range and speed it has because it has lead-acid batteries, not li-ion. And it has lead-acid because that's all the people buying them have wanted for now (they're mainly used at ports).

        Oh, and you know the kicker to all of this?

        *Fuel Cell Vehicles Don't Generally Fuel Faster Than Rapid-Charging EVs!*

        Your typical hydrogen filling station takes almost half an hour to fuel your typical hydrogen car. Increase that by 10-20 fold for a 30-ton cargo hauler. As pressures and hydrogen quantities have risen, so have fueling times. There are uber-high-pressure filling stations that pre-pressurize the H2 and can deliver it in about 3 minutes for a car (increase by 10-20 fold for a cargo hauler), but they're ridiculously expensive and I wouldn't want one within a mile of where I live (that's a city-leveling explosion waiting to happen).

        Meanwhile, trucks like the E30 charge on the high power Aerovironment chargers. If you've been following the news, Aerovironment now makes them as big as 800kW. That'd be 200-250 miles of hauling 30 ton loads per hour of charging. Beat that, hydrogen.
        • 5 Years Ago
        No, the plan is to use steam reforming of natural gas for "on site" H2 production, not electrolysis of water, as that is the cheapest source. Besides, the oil companies already have some natural gas production from their oil wells.

        The dream of "clean H2 from electrolysis" is dangled as a lure to the ecology minded, but less than 4% of H2 is produced that way. Except for a few promotional electrolysis demo units, the fuel for the "Hydrogen Hyway" will come from steam reformed fossil fuels.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The issue with long haul isn't power, it's total energy content and the ability to replenish it. You can get large enough electric motors to do the job, just not enough batteries to do the job for a long period of time.

        And you say I'm off track because of a truck that has a top speed of 45mph and only has a range of 90 miles round trip?

        The truck you mention has 300HP output, it would only require a fuel cell unit about 3x the size of the one pictured for this article. That's smaller than the Diesel engine in an existing truck.

        Batteries will not be ready for trucking any time soon.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Fuel cell costs scale proportional to power output. Do you have any clue how much power it takes to haul a 30 ton load?

        There are no 30 ton fuel cell freight haulers. But there are 30 ton BEV freight haulers -- the Nautilus e30 line.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Throughout these comments there seems to b an assumption that is NO LONGER Valid. That is that present automotive technology is polluting. Most ICE autos in the USA coming to market are SULEV and PZEV vehicles. That is they meets T2 B2 levels of pollution, which is essentially zero. The addition of a better fuel storage tank to recover HVOC evaporation even while the car is parked, makes it a PZEV or ZERO POLLUTION vehicle. This is a simple well known fix, and applied to millions of cars today at little cost. Some 56 different car models met that standard in the 2008 model year and I have no figures for the 2009 or 2010 model years except that it is increasing rapidly.

      The ICE has been cleaned so thoroughly that toxic pollution is no longer the issue, Price, availability and national security remain as the reasons to find substitutes for the ICE. The CO2 hoax is dying a scientific death as we speak. At hte minimum its ability to alter the climate is somuch lower than once feared, that the effect becomes wholly benign in stimulating plant growth and Greening the Planet. .

      Mr. gorr is so wrong it doesn't merit even responding, in detail. He is to filled with leftist conspiracy theories and erroneous Science. Others who tout biofuelsl are equally ignorant unless the demand for petroleum fuels falls to the level these substitutes can meet, the 10-15% of present demand that they realistically have the ability to supply.

      Right now the cost of a FCV is still several hundred thousand dollars per vehicle. There is a long way they must improve before becoming realistic competitors even compared to expensive substitutes like the Volt.

      Even if the hardware prices can be reduced by 1.5 to 2 orders of magnitude, H2 availability is not addressed. The only viable approach is to build 100s of nuclear reactors to just create the electricity to electrolyze water. It is inherently inefficient to reverse the combustion process to make the hydrogen and then recombust it. Especially in the quantities needed.
        • 5 Years Ago
        SULEV and such only apply to trace emissions. EVs not only decrease those further, but also reduce primary emissions (CO2/H2O vapor).

        I believe your info on how many SULEV car models is incorrect. Most makers only offer one or two models with SULEV or PZEV, and most don't offer them at all outside the CARB area.

        As to the idea that the ICE is so clean now it is no longer polluting, that's ridiculous. Even on trace emissions, cars amount for a significant portion of our total pollution, merely because as clean as they may be, there are millions on the road.
        • 5 Years Ago
        What's dying is the public being fooled by the deceit of the Oil and Coal industry. We can see with our eyes the global retreat of the worlds glaciers. We can also feel the National effects of just a 2 degree increase in temperature.

        http://drought.unl.edu/DM/MONITOR.html

        We can also see, the same people claiming Climate Change isn't real buying up Global food and water rights. You're fooling no one.

        Look if it bothers you so much, sell your Coal Stock. Then you can rejoin the Reality Based universe.

      • 5 Years Ago
      What's this? An improvement and advancement in H2 storage and usage technology?

      What a shocker!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Spoken like a true hypocrite of new technology use!

        Oh well...all new breakthroughs aside, not everyone has the brains to see long term now do they.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It must be your NASA background, Noz, you are so used to using H2 as rocket fuel that you assume it must be the future of all transport! Like the old saying "If all you've got is a hammer, all problems look like nails".

        Due to its basic physical nature, (bulky, difficult to store, leak prone, expensive) H2 is a mediocre fuel for road vehicles, and always will be.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes! The've brought the price down from "Billionaire only" down to where mere "multi-millionaires" might actually qualify! Whether they'll be able to persuade said multi-millionaires to buy a car running on more expensive and less available fuels is another question, I suspect most will prefer EVs or other PHEVs instead.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Interesting that GM and Honda and Toyota and Daimler have all gone with the "brute force" storage method of highly compressed H2, as that is currently the cheapest most cost effective H2 storage method. Metal hydrides and other adsorbents can reduce the pressures needed, but add weight and cost. Liquid H2 reduces both pressure and volume, but require expensive vacuum insulated flasks, continually boils away H2, and requires a lot more energy for cryogenic cooling. Chemical storage such as borohydrates makes storage much easier, but requires more fuel processing that increases fuel costs and energy consumption.

        So, while there has been a lot of research in H2 storage, nothing has yet appeared that can replace the standard 10,000 psi carbon fiber tanks.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Noz, can you point to any major automaker that has really "dismissed" Li batteries? GM certainly hasn't, the Volt relys on them. Toyota hasn't, they plan to produce a BEV with LiIon batteries. Daimler hasn't, they're producing Smart EVs with LiIon, and also for some of their hybrids. BMW hasn't, their MiniEV uses them. Ford and Chrysler both plan LiIon BEVs. Of course, the H2FC cars now on the road use LiIon batteries to supplement the fuel cell. So, if any automaker is "dismissing" Li batteries, they must also be dismissing H2 fuel cells.

        Its ironic that you think H2 fuel cells and H2 storage is advancing by leaps and bounds, but somehow seem to think that the batteries the H2FCVs need aren't advancing at all!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes it is interesting...until you put it into perspective that H2 use and storage on a mainstream level is on a longer time table than most stop-gap solutions. Alternative storage methods are appearing slowly but surely. I'd say another 5-10 years or so for viable solutions.

        It's interesting that Li batteries are being dismissed by the largest automakers as a viable battery solutions for their EVs. Not to mention the recycling, re-use, energy use for all that and such.

        Oh well...such is life with new technology isn't it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Unfortunately for you, the advances in H2 storage and usage are making you an obsolete mouthpiece.

        Nothing to do with NASA...just simple progress across the board. It's your narrow minded view that thinks everything is a brute force approach.

        Still..it doesn't change the fact that such advancements fly in the face of your drivel.
    • Load More Comments