Over the years, General Motors has not often been seen as a forward-thinking company when it comes to green technologies. Sure, the Chevrolet Chevette was one of the first American cars to crack the 30 miles per gallon mark (the diesel model got north of 50 mpg). True, the EV-1 experiment showed some promising results (or, depending on who you ask, helped kill the electric car). But for the most part, The General has put most of its blood sweat and tears into basic, and not particularly breakthrough, cars, trucks and SUVs. That is, until last year.

In 2009, the year the company filed for and then emerged from bankruptcy, more than half of GM's patent filings were for green technologies. More than half! We know what you cynical types are thinking – you're thinking they only filed five patents and three of them were different floor mat designs for the Volt. Well, not so, naysayers. GM filed over 1,300 patents last year. By our math that's at least 651 green patents.

This news comes from a study of patent activity from the top 15 automakers in the world, conducted by the intellectual capital firm Ocean Tomo, LLC. James E. Malackowski, CEO of Ocean Tomo LLC had this to say about GM's leadership in the green patent race:
Green automotive technologies are the building blocks for creating and improving alternative power plants and increasing fuel efficiency. GM has higher average quality and newer green technology and patents than the other 14 automakers combined.
Okay, okay, we know you want to read more about some of these patents. Well, being big lovers of clean diesels we were excited to learn about GM's development of a new catalyst material for scrubbing diesel emissions. The material is called perovskite and apparently provides performance equal to the widely used platinum catalysts but at a lower cost. That's good because, in theory, cheaper diesel emission equipment might finally convince GM to sell more diesel vehicles in the U.S.

So, the perovskite is cool, but it doesn't really have any "wow" factor. So check out this next one. GM engineers are working on a new device called shape memory alloy (SMA), which changes shape when exposed to heat. Big deal, right? Lots of materials do that. Well, the engineers are working on ways to use SMA to build a device that would recover waste engine heat and convert it into electricity. BOOSH! Waste heat hybrid, anyone?

Is the SMA project (pictured above) just pie in the sky? Well, the Department of Energy (DOE) is putting money behind it. General Motors R&D will receive $2.7 million to help fund the building of a prototype to demonstrate this thermomechanical waste heat recovery system. GM was the only automaker to receive an award from the DOE in the first round of funding.

Alan Taub, vice president of GM Global Research and Development, had this to say about GM's future (and past) as a green leader:

The move toward electrification is requiring us to reinvent the DNA of the automobile, requiring massive amounts of innovation. There's almost no component on the vehicle that is not being reinvented. As a result, our green patent portfolio is helping us achieve world-class technological breakthroughs in the energy and environmental space. GM has a rich history of being an innovation leader, from the invention of the catalytic converter, to the development of the world's most advanced telematics safety system-OnStar. We will continue our rapid pace of technology development in areas that will be most beneficial to our customers.

GM invented the catalytic converter? Did anyone else know that? Fine, the Chevette, the EV1 and the catalytic converter. We stand corrected.

[Source: Green Car Congress]


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