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GM Launches Project Driveway, Largest Market Test of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Yet

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The 2007 Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle.

GM has launched Project Driveway—the first large-scale consumer market test of fuel cell electric vehicles anywhere. (Earlier post.) Under Project Driveway, GM will temporarily deploy more than 100 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicles among selected customers in suburban Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.

A variety of drivers—from regular families to celebrities—will have free use of an Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle and the hydrogen fuel it needs to make electricity onboard. The average family will get one of the vehicles for three months and be required to report their experience to Chevrolet.

Project Driveway is not focused on testing the technology; the Equinox uses GM’s fourth-generation fuel cell system, while the company has already moved on to a fifth generation to be applied in the fuel-cell variant of the Volt, for example. The technology in the Equinox is already four-years old, given the development and production cycles.

Rather, according to Byron McCormick, Executive Director GM Global Fuel Cell Activities, the project is designed to help GM understand customer reaction to the vehicle: its handling, overall performance, customer confidence, reaction to refueling, speed, capacity, audible cues (such as the whine of the electric motor on deceleration), braking feel and response, and so on.

Intellectually, it [the fuel cell electric vehicle] may be a great story, but if the customers don’t buy it, it doesn’t matter. Project Driveway is designed to learn what makes a difference—how fast the air conditioning comes on, how the braking feels, sounds, etc. If you look at the risks our industry is facing, it’s worth spending the money to find out if consumers care about these things.

—Byron McCormick

GM will apply what it learns to the advancement of both of its series of electric drive vehicles—fuel cell electric vehicles, as well as range-extended battery electric vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Volt with GM’s E-Flex system. (Earlier post.)

These two families of electric vehicles mark the “cut line on petroleum” and are the “paradigm buster”, according to McCormick—the development pathway that leads to displacing petroleum in transportation.

The two technology variants of electric drive “complement each other, they’re not mutually exclusive,” McCormick said in a presentation for the kick-off of Project Driveway.

We don’t see it as a win/lose. With E-Flex, we’ll take the batteries as far as they will take us. For people who are doing commutes of 40 miles or less—about 50% of drivers—battery technology looks like it will have good promise. Hydrogen gives you a full-performance vehicle with a long driving range and a short refueling time.

—Byron McCormick

Taxonomically, GM is drawing a distinction between plug-in hybrids and range-extended electric vehicles that plug-in. The plug-in hybrid label thus is assigned to the coming version of the Saturn Vue Green Line two-mode hybrid—a mixed mechanical and electric drive vehicle with a large, grid-chargeable battery pack. The range-extended electric vehicle—as represented by the Volt and the E-Flex architecture, for example—uses only an electric drive. Although the vehicles can plug in (the Volt is a series hybrid with a small combustion engine as the range extender for a large li-ion pack that is also grid-chargeable), GM is emphasizing the electric drive, rather than focusing on the multiple sources of electricity as defining a “hybrid.”

The Equinox Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle. The Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle is equipped with a GM fourth-generation, 93 kW fuel cell stack. A 35 kW NiMH battery pack (about 1.8 kWh) provides energy storage for regenerative braking. These power a front-wheel drive, 3-phase, 73 kW continuous, 94 kW maximum asynchronous electric motor that delivers 236 lb-ft (320 Nm) of instant torque and a top speed of about 100 miles per hour.

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The instrument panel features a power indicator (right) rather than a tachometer to show the power being delivered to the system in kW. The green numbers below the 0 indicate regen power. Click to enlarge.

Three 700 bar compressed hydrogen storage tanks store 4.2 kg of hydrogen—enough for a range of approximately 150 miles under the new 2008 EPA adjusted measurement. GM managed to fit the tanks without disrupting the passenger cabin space, and with only a slight penalty in the cargo area. The mid-sized crossover seats four, and offers 32 cubic feet of cargo volume.

Instead of a tachometer, a power indicator is integrated into the instrument panel to show the actual power being delivered to the system in kilowatts (kW).

In order to prepare for the market test, GM worked with first responders in the Project Driveway test areas to detail vehicle specifics in the event of an emergency, and program participants will be trained in safe fueling practices.

Major systems of the Equinox Fuel Cell vehicle are designed to shut down in the event of a crash. Because it uses a high-voltage system, similar to hybrid vehicles, only trained personnel should work on the vehicle. A guide for emergency personnel shows where key fuel cell components are located, and gives step-by-step directions on disabling the electrical system.

Seven sensors located in the vehicle alert the driver in the event of a hydrogen leak. In the event potentially unsafe levels are detected, the system will alert the driver with a blinking icon, an audible beep and a message on the driver information panel.

Comments

George

Boy, it sure is easy debating silly arguments that no one is making.

At least I've finally got you to talk about cost.

Of course you'd say that - you're a cheerleader, not an analyst.

An "arrogant" cheerleader.

Hydrogen wins on volumetric and mass density, and thus range, as well as refueling times and non-proprietary nature of the storage mechanism. Battery wins on cost at this point (though both are well out of the range of widespread applicability solely on their own).

PHEV wins on acceleration (performance). With respect to volumetric and mass density, you have to compare the volume and mass of the fuel cell, hydrogen tank, AND the battery or supercap it needs for decent acceleration against the battery alone in a BEV. In a PHEV, you have to include the ICE and related systems, so you may or may not win there. Depends if you look at existing technology or crystal ball. PHEV wins on convenience because it can be fueled at home or at any gas station. FCVs have next to no infrastructure at the moment. Safety? Probably a tossup. You'd think a "cheerleader" would be talking about hydrogen explosions, but I think that problem is solvable. The reason I gave the safety edge to the PHEV was because of its better acceleration, braking, and handling due to lower cg and reduced overall mass based on existing FCVs.

Fact is, each has their strenghts and their weaknesses, both in transportation and in larger contexts, and neither are ready for primetime.

PHEV/BEV vehicles are FAR closer to primetime than FCVs. They are already being produced. A Prius with a bigger battery is not exactly a huge technological leap. Where exactly are you going to fill up your FCV?

The thing so many of you engineer types miss is that the world doesn't care about absolute efficiency (or even that much about efficiency anyway), it cares about usability and costs - both marginal and total. Right now, BEVs entail $100K for a two-seater with 200 mile range and 4-5 hour recharge times. To consider that to be even remotely close to being mass market is laughable.

Efficiency is how you attack global warming. The Tesla Roadster is a sports car that uses old battery technology. It was never intended to be a mass market car. Think along the lines of the Chevy Volt or the next Prius model if you're going to make comparisons. Existing batteries can be quick charged to 80% in under ten minutes. How long do you think it will take to fill a tank with high pressure hydrogen? It's not likely to be fast, or self serve. What would an FCV cost me today, a million dollars? Oh, none for sale you say. Well, OK then.

Efficiency only matters with respect to whether it's more efficient than what it replaces (especially in terms of environmental consequences), but without the economics working, it doesn't matter.

So are you saying that as long as it produces less greenhouse gases than a Ford Excursion, it's OK? We need to reduce GHGs by a LOT. Efficiency does matter. If the difference were 10 or 15%, then other things would be more important. I don't believe that's what we're talking about, though.

I am disappointed that you think you have all the answers by having narrow, meaningless frames that you don't let others expand on or spin off of.

My "narrow meaningless frame" is to discuss these vehicles on their merits: Efficiency and cost. Until now you've refused to do that. I'm certainly not preventing anyone from expanding on or spinning off from my points. What I AM trying to do is get the hydrogen cheerleaders to deal with issues that matter.

You really are ridiculous with that crap.

I think the word you are looking for is "arrogant".

Jack I just went back and looked at all of your posts in this thread. The only reason you've offered for FCV superiority is a hypothetical "fast" refueling. We don't know how fast it's going to be, and we need to include the time spent driving around looking for a hydrogen station. You continue to claim that EVs have ridiculously long recharge times, but that is a solved problem. See Grey Falcon's post above. You have said that PHEV/BEVs would be supporting the coal/nuke/gas industries, but guess what? Where do you think the hydrogen comes from? Yup, the same place. Any green energy source used for hydrogen could be used (more efficiently) for EVs too. You have gone on about the high cost of batteries, but you neglect to deal with the vastly higher cost of FCVs and their attendant infrastructure. Everything useful that you said could have fit in a couple posts. The rest of your posts have primarily been smart-ass comments that do little except irritate people.

jack

Ridiculous.

Roger Pham

George,
Since neither FCV nor BEV are fully-accepted vehicles, that await further developments to become practical, it would be difficult to say for certain which is better than the other at this time.

But, we should not overlook our common obstacle in the fight against global warming: cheap coal! which inhibits adaptation of efficiency-enhancing bottoming-steam turbine cycle in power plants. Cheap coal also inhibits development in solar and wind electricity, and development of HT-SOEC for efficient H2 synthesis. WE should narrow our differences, and trying to come up with solutions for our common goal.

Bill

Again, can I buy the below today for use at home?

Home heating can easily take several hundred gallons of LPG (or heating oil) per season.

I still think we'll need a much higher density storage system than Mike's.

How much energy is required/losses incurred from converting H2 to CH4?

Then back into H2 for fuel cells?

Or simply burn CH4 directly for heat?

Roger wrote:

For more compact storage, methane can be synthesized via SOEC route by combination of steam plus CO2, or H2 can be combined with CO2 via Sabatier synthesis to make CH4.

For a given pressure, CH4 is 3x more energy dense than H2. New CH4 adsorptive material can allow low pressure CH4 storage at 700 psi with energy density comparable to 5000 psi storage.

Bill

Jack's right about efficiency not being the end all.

What we're using now to move around is not very energy efficient, but both the fixed cost of the vehicle and the variable cost of the fuel are low enough that ICE-powered vehicles are the mass market today for transportation.

Pierre T

What's wrong with America, nobody wants to get out of SUV. Everybody is so scare to say the word "small car" . O america, try it, small car, or at least smaller car. If we follow the trend, soon everybody will be driving a school bus to work.They are trying to convince themself with SUV, like someone convincing them of eating everything with a diet coke to loose weight.... start driving smaller car, electric or fuel cell and ou will see you will polute less, just by driving a smaller car...read right, did not say smaller SUV. a car d... car...

Rex

The National Hydrogen Association congratulates General Motors (one of our members) for investing the time and energy searching for a solution to address our long-term energy needs and move us to a more secure future. As the automotive industry works to find solutions for using hydrogen technologies in automobiles, Project Driveway will begin to introduce these concepts to consumers.

The hydrogen community is hard at work exploring methods for overcoming the inherent challenges for making these cars a realistic option for drivers. In fact, hydrogen technologies are already being utilized in specialty transportation such as forklifts.

We encourage everyone to participate in Project Driveway to learn about how GM applies fuel cell technology in the Equinox, and to provide the critical feedback necessary to help propel us forward. Only by working collectively can we achieve these milestones.

The National Hydrogen Association is working hard to further engage the public and help people gain a greater understanding about hydrogen and its benefits. Please visit the National Hydrogen Association Website at www.hydrogenassociatin.org.

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