General Motors on target

General Motors has unveiled new advances in fuel cell development as it moves closer to putting a fuel cell-powered vehicle on the road by 2002.

Byron McCormick, co-director of GM’s Global Alternative Propulsion Centre, announced GM has successfully tested its current generation gasoline fuel processor at more than 80 percent efficiency with a breakthrough catalyst system.

The catalyst will be used in the next-generation fuel processor that will be installed in a Chevrolet S-10 that GM plans to demonstrate in early 2002. The processor will be 50 percent lighter, half the size of the previous generation, and capable of starting in less than three minutes, compared to the 12-15 minute start times in previous generations.

GM also plans to demonstrate an integrated system with this advanced fuel processor and a fuel cell stack that produces 25 kW. GM selected the 25kW system as a learning platform, which approaches the overall efficiency requirements for automotive use.

‘Make no mistake about it, we are on the path to commercialisation of fuel cells,’ said McCormick. ‘But we must continue to develop the technologies. We need less costly materials that still meet the durability and the standards that customer’s demand. And we need a reliable and safe fuel infrastructure that will make hydrogen as readily available as gasoline is today.’

While GM believes hydrogen is the fuel of the future, it is developing gasoline processors as a bridge between today’s fuel cell cars and hydrogen-powered vehicles of the future.

The new catalyst GM has developed for its gasoline fuel processor is said to solve a problem that has plagued engineers – how to prevent the catalyst from breaking down due to vibration during driving. In a fuel cell, the catalyst is critical because it helps convert the fuel into electricity.

The new catalyst is ‘supported’ in a honeycomb-like device that holds it in place, preventing it from breaking down. GM has tested this system for more than 1,000 hours – about 20 percent of the time needed for automobile applications – with no reduction in performance.

GM expects this fuel cell system to achieve nearly 40 percent peak efficiency.

GM believes gasoline fuel cells make use of an existing infrastructure and a readily available fuel supply. By using gasoline as the source of hydrogen, these environmentally sound vehicles can, say GM, be in the public’s hands by the end of this decade.