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GM, Shanghai Automotive Partner on Hybrids and Fuel Cells

GM and Shanghai Automotive are jointly to develop and to commercialize hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles—and the infrastructure required to support them—in China. The broad-based agreement, presaged by the announcement two weeks ago of joint development of diesel hybrid buses (earlier post), is the first of its kind between a global and Chinese automaker.

In addition to co-developing a demonstration vehicle building on GM’s HydroGen3 fuel-cell vehicle, the partners intend to:

  • Develop local engineering capability for clean-energy vehicles

  • Promote the development of a Chinese hydrogen infrastructure

  • Contribute to the formulation of relevant regulations and policies by the Chinese government

  • Promote general awareness of the future of advanced vehicle technology in China

The realization of a cleaner future will not be accomplished in a single step. That is why GM is adopting a three-pronged approach to our overall advanced propulsion strategy, which we believe offers the greatest overall benefits to society. Hybrids will play an important role, but over the long term, we believe fuel cells powered by hydrogen offer the ultimate environmental answer. Because it has a developing automotive industry without a massive gasoline infrastructure, China is in a unique position to take the lead in moving toward a hydrogen-based economy.

—Rick Wagoner, GM CEO

GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center will be responsible for maintaining the daily operation of the demonstration fuel-cell vehicle. This will enable PATAC to become familiar with the latest alternative propulsion technology in order to enhance its own product development capability. It will further serve as an important point of reference for government decision-makers in creating regulations and standards and developing infrastructure required for the next generation of vehicles.

In addition, GM will leverage its industry-leading fuel-cell technology to fully support SAIC’s bid in the fourth quarter of 2005 to take part in the Global Environment Facility/United Nations Development Program Demonstration for Fuel Cell Bus Commercialization program in China.

GM and SAIC have worked together on fuel cells before, unveiling a fuel-cell Buick GL8 minivan, called the Phoenix, in November 2001. The Phoenix was powered by a 35-kilowatt, first-generation, fuel cell stack from GM. The newer HydroGen3 is about twice as powerful.



It seems that the development of the fuel cell for auto applications have already reached a level where early commercial introduction is well within reach.Why than the delay? Is because of any possible lobbying from the oil and fuel injection systems makers?


The FC tech is getting there, although cost, range and power are all still issues for the manufacturers. Assuming that was all in place, though, the biggest stumbling block is the lack of the hydrogen infrastructure...where to fuel up, in other words, and how the hydrogen gets from wherever it is made to wherever you need it. Putting in such an infrastructure is a massive undertaking.

More automakers are looking at burning hydrogen in internal combustion engines to build the demand for that infrastructure while they still work out the kinks in fuel cell vehicles.

On the hydrogen production side...97% of US hydrogen comes from natural gas. (So the oil (energy) companies don't object at all.) Scaling production to the level needed to support a “hydrogen economy” is a long way off. Environmentally, hydrogen from natural gas may be green in use in vehicles, but it is not is its production. To do this right, and sustainably, we need mechanisms for the renewable production of hydrogen (solar, biomass, wind, microbial...)

Of course, if we had an extra, oh, say $200 billion to put toward these issues, we'd probably be making faster progress...:-)

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