Gasoline Processor for Fuel Cell Vehicles

General Motors and Exxon Mobil Corporation have developed a highly-efficient gasoline fuel processor for fuel cell vehicles.

The companies said that the processor is a breakthrough that will lead to greatly reduced emissions and improved fuel economy. GM plans a vehicle demonstration using this technology within 18 months.

The processor uses gasoline as a fuel to create a stream of hydrogen that powers a fuel cell. For consumers this means they will be able to fuel these new vehicles the same way they fuel their present cars. GM researchers and engineers believe that the gasoline processor is a key to fuel cell production this decade.

‘The gasoline processor could be the bridge between today’s conventional vehicles and tomorrow’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicles,’ said Harry J. Pearce, GM Vice Chairman. ‘While we view hydrogen as the future fuel for automotive applications, we have significant commercial challenges, such as designing and building a large number of hydrogen refuelling stations, developing feasible on-board fuel tanks and agreeing to industry-wide specifications.’

GM and ExxonMobil said that the results of a three-year collaborative research program has allowed GM and ExxonMobil engineers to design, develop, build and run a gasoline processor that exceeds 80 percent efficiency. By the end of this year, GM will demonstrate in a laboratory an integrated system with an advanced version of this processor and a GM fuel cell stack producing 25 kW.

GM selected the 25 kW system as a learning platform. The 25 kW system begins to approach the overall efficiency requirements for automotive use and will foster development of future automotive and stationary fuel cell systems. Peak fuel cell system efficiency is expected to achieve nearly 40 percent in this early generation design. The system will integrate GM’s proprietary designs in gasoline processing and fuel cell stacks.

ExxonMobil and GM signed an agreement in 1998 to conduct research on hardware and fuel options for next generation vehicles. The collaboration has resulted in several important breakthroughs to speed the development of a gasoline processor to provide hydrogen for a fuel cell powered vehicle.

The gasoline processor running today is GM’s second-generation design, with a third planned shortly. The next generation fuel cell system fuelled by gasoline will be half the size and half the weight of the current generation.