|One of GM’s innovations involves the creation of a shape memory alloy (SMA) heat engine for power generation from waste engine heat. Source: GM. Click to enlarge.|
More than half of the 1,300 patents filed by General Motors Co. in 2009 are green innovations, evidence of the rapid development by GM researchers and engineers. A study of the patent activity of the top-15 global automakers released by the Intellectual Capital Merchant Banc firm Ocean Tomo, LLC highlighted GM’s leadership in this area.
“Green automotive technologies are the building blocks for creating and improving alternative power plants and increasing fuel efficiency,” said James E. Malackowski, CEO of Ocean Tomo LLC. “GM has higher average quality and newer green technology and patents than the other 14 automakers combined.”
Among the most notable was the development of a new catalyst material for the purification of exhaust from diesel or other lean-burning engines. Traditional catalysts use platinum, but a team of GM researchers discovered the material perovskite can provide performance equal to platinum at a much lower cost. (Earlier post.) This innovation could help to reduce the cost of diesel and other lean-burning engine technology in the future, while also keeping them safe for the environment.
Another breakthrough came in the form of a new device that uses a material called shape memory alloy (SMA), which changes shape when it is heated. (Earlier post.) GM researchers are developing ways to use the material to build a recovery device that would convert waste heat from a vehicle’s engine into electricity to power auxiliary equipment, such as the radio or interior accent lighting. This technology could help to further improve the fuel economy of tomorrow’s vehicles, while also making next-generation hybrids more efficient.
As one of 37 projects selected by the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E in the initial round of funding, General Motors R&D will receive $2.7 million (subject to final negotiation with DOE) to support building a prototype thermomechanical waste heat recovery system using an SMA heat engine to generate electricity from the heat in automotive exhaust. GM was the only automaker to receive an ARPA-E award in the first round of funding.
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.
—Alan Taub, vice president of GM Global Research and Development