GM Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles
As auto makers work collectively to reduce their carbon footprint, dependence on petroleum to power vehicles presents a critical challenge. In addition to GM’s industry-leading development of battery-electric vehicles, the company continues to pursue promising alternative technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells offer the potential to power a wide range of vehicles without a drop of gasoline.
Hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology helps address two major environmental challenges with automobiles today – petroleum use and carbon dioxide emissions. Fuel cell vehicles can operate on renewable hydrogen from sources like wind and biomass. Water vapor is the only emission.
GM has been developing and improving fuel cell technologies for years. GM’s most impressive fuel cell achievements have been delivered as concept cars, prototypes and consumer, real-world drivable vehicles. Here is a rundown of these vehicles.
During the 1960s space race, in which fuel cells played a starring role powering the moon missions, GM developed the Electrovan, a modified 1966 GMC van running on fuel cells. The intent of the program was to design a vehicle that could match a standard delivery van in acceleration, performance and driving range.
With pressurized tanks of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, Electrovan had a continuous output of approximately 32 kilowatts and a peak of 160 kilowatts and could go about 150 miles between its somewhat hazardous refills.
The Electrovan was considered the most advanced electric vehicle ever built. As the first fuel cell powered automotive vehicle, it was rated as a major technical achievement in 1966.
Close on the heels of its stellar success as a diesel/electric hybrid vehicle, the Precept concept sedan was developed in a fuel cell version. This concept sedan could deliver better than 100 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent fuel economy, just over nine seconds 0-60 mph acceleration, and 500 miles range. Created by the Advanced Technology Vehicles group and the Global Alternative Propulsion Center, the FCEV Precept carries a 400-cell, 100 kW PEM fuel cell stack operating at 260 to 340 volts. Its power density exceeds 1.0 kW per liter and 1.0 kW per kilogram.
2001 Opel Zafira-based HydroGen1
The fuel cell HydroGen1, based on an Opel Zafira minivan, has set 15 world endurance records, including a top speed of 85 miles per hour. But it's nearly silent and its only exhaust is pure water. This small van has 200 fuel cell units, a continuous power output of 80 kilowatts (109 horsepower) and a maximum power output of 120 kilowatts (163 hp).
The AUTOnomy concept was the world’s first vehicle designed completely around a fuel cell propulsion system. AUTOnomy was more than just a new concept car; it was hailed as potentially the start of a revolution in how automobiles are designed, built and used. AUTOnomy was the first vehicle to combine fuel cells with by-wire technology, which allows steering, braking and other vehicle systems to be controlled electronically rather than mechanically.
The fusion of fuel cells and by-wire technology opened the door to tremendous styling and design opportunities, every fuel cell vehicle shown so far has attempted to stuff the fuel cell stack, hydrogen storage unit and electric motors into the existing internal combustion architecture, often at the expense of passenger space and payload capacity. That design goes back to the earliest days of the internal combustion engine. But a fuel cell stack can be spread around the vehicle and can take any shape you might imagine. It doesn’t have to be bunched up like the cylinders of an internal combustion engine.
Driving closer to reinventing the automobile, GM unveiled Hy-Wire, the world’s first drivable vehicle that combined a hydrogen fuel cell with by-wire technology. The GM Hy-Wire, appropriately named for its technology, incorporates the features first envisioned in the AUTOnomy concept vehicle.
GM developed Hy-Wire as a drivable concept vehicle in just eight months, showing a commitment to this technology and the speed at which the company was progressing. Hy-Wire accelerated this progress with a functional proof of concept which strengthened the company’s confidence to gain marketplace acceptance of production fuel cell vehicles.
The HydroGen3 is an evolution of the Opel Zafira MPV HydroGen1. HydroGen3 has more power than HydroGen1 and has a simpler start up procedure and a more compact fuel cell stack.
GM and FedEx launched the first commercial test fleet of fuel cell vehicles in Japan. HydroGen3’s 250-mile range was the highest of any fuel cell vehicle approved for roads in Japan.
The HyrdroGen3 prototype vehicle set a new endurance record for fuel cell vehicles, crossing 14 European countries from Norway to Portugal, driving 6,200 miles; farther and under more diverse road and climate conditions than any previous fuel cell vehicle had ever been driven.
The U.S. Postal Service announced that it would lease a GM fuel cell-powered minivan to deliver mail in the Washington, D.C. area, marking the first commercial application of any fuel cell vehicle in the U.S.
The Sequel was the first vehicle in the world to successfully integrate a hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system with a broad menu of advanced technologies such as steer-and brake-by-wire controls, wheel hub motors, lithium-ion batteries and a lightweight aluminum structure. Compared to other fuel cell vehicles of its day, Sequel had an unprecedented range of 300 miles between fill-ups and spirited acceleration, attaining 60 mph in just 10 seconds.
With the Sequel, virtually everything is packaged in an 11-inch ‘skateboard’ chassis, building on what GM first showed the world in the AUTOnomy and Hy-Wire. Sequel points to a vehicle that, in the future, will be better in nearly every way – quicker, surer-footed, easier to handle, easier to build, better looking, safer and only emits water vapor.
2007 “Project Driveway”
In 2007, GM launched “Project Driveway,” a 119-vehicle fleet of hydrogen fuel cell-equipped Chevrolet Equinoxs that were driven in daily use for more than 3 million miles by more than 5,000 consumers. It was the world’s largest fuel cell vehicle fleet ever assembled. It was also the first meaningful market test of fuel cell vehicles anywhere. A variety of drivers – in differing driving environments – operated these vehicles and refueled with hydrogen in three geographic areas: California, the New York metropolitan area and Washington D.C.
General Motors and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) modified a Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup truck to run on a commercial hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system and will expose the truck to the extremes of daily military use for 12 months.
“Hydrogen fuel cell technology is important to GM’s advanced propulsion portfolio, and this enables us to put our technology to the test in a vehicle that will face punishing military duty cycles,” said Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Global Fuel Cell Engineering activities.
Fuel cell propulsion has very high low-end torque capability useful in off-road environments. It also offers exportable electric power and quiet operation, attractive characteristics to both commercial and military use.
Since the launch in 2014, the Chevrolet Colorado has raised the bar for midsize pickups with class-leading horsepower, torque, fuel economy, trailering capabilities and safety technologies. The Colorado provides true truck capabilities in a refined, fuel-efficient midsize package with three available powertrains. Paired with the available 2.8L Duramax diesel, the Colorado is the most fuel-efficient pickup truck in America.
GM is at the forefront of advanced future technologies like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Engineers are developing next-generation hydrogen fuel cell stack and hydrogen storage systems and the company has plans to develop commercially viable fuel cell technologies in the 2020 timeframe.