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GM Highlights Engineering Advances With Second-Generation Fuel Cell System and Fifth-Generation Stack; Poised for Production Around 2015

GM’s second-generation fuel-cell system (engineer included for scale.) Click to enlarge.

The second generation hydrogen fuel cell system under development by General Motors—which contains its fifth-generation fuel cell stack—is half the size, 220 pounds (100 kg) lighter and uses less than half the platinum (30 grams plus or minus vs. 80 grams) of the current generation in the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle (earlier post).

The production-intent fuel cell system can be packaged under the hood in about the same space as a four-cylinder engine; by contrast, the first generation system in the Equinox (with the fourth-generation stack) is about the size of a file cabinet, says Charles Freese, executive director of GM Fuel Cell Activities.

The first generation fuel cell system (with fourth-generation stack technology) used in the Equinox. The new second-generation system is to the left. Click to enlarge.

The new system, where we have adopted a pretty radical change in the architecture itself, downsizes dramatically, takes 100 kg of the mass out, and takes the size down to half of that of the Equinox. What constitutes the propulsion system architecture is not just the fuel cell stack and the balance of plant, it’s also the traction motor—which is mounted to the base [of the stack]—and the power electronics unit. The system looks about like a small inline gasoline engine, you could even put it into a sedan. It’s pretty tightly packaged and integrated.

—Charles Freese

In 2007, GM took fuel cell development activity out of R&D and moved it over to GM Powertrain, along with 500 scientists and engineers. (Earlier post.) Work that has been going on since then has been less focused on just the stack itself, and more on the mass production at low cost of fuel cell system, said Freese.

As an example of the type of production-oriented engineering optimization GM is taking, Freese used the injection system.

If you go back to the first-generation system in the Equinox, it uses a complex hydrogen injection system: 7 injectors with flow shift units, its oscillates the hydrogen back and forth through the cell. It had its own plumbing and control module. We’ve replaced that with an injector the size of my little finger. It does the whole job.

When you see the cell itself, you go from these composite carbon cell plates that are more difficult to manufacture and maybe less robust in terms of assembly damage. We’ve moved to a stamped steel plate—something like you make for the head gasket on an engine.

—Charles Freese


(Top) Cell from the fourth-generation stack in the Equinox. (Bottom) Cell from the fifth-generation stack. Click to enlarge.

The second-generation system uses 320 cells that provide the same functionality as the 400-cell system used in the Equinox, Freese said. The air compressor operates at 120,000 rpm and has a 5-liter dimension. By contrast, the Equinox system operates at 80,000 rpm and has a volume of about 9 liters. “It’s all about taking things, making them smaller, integrating them,” said Freese.

Packaging of the system plays a role too. Parts have been moved around from where they are on the Equinox, Freese said, allowing GM to get rid of some of the cables in that system. In addition to the system-level work, GM has made advances with its stack technology. The electrode design is different, Freese said, enabling a significant change in platinum loading.

We’re in the 80 gram platinum level on the Equinox. The Gen 2 architecture is basically down to a 30 gram plus or minus platinum loading, and we are working toward a sub-10 gram platinum level. We have a clear roadmap established. If we look at the Gen 2 architecture as commercialized in the 2015 time frame, we’re looking at the sub-10 level sometime in the 2018-2022 time frame.

—Charles Freese

Progress in GM fuel cell stack technology since 1997. Source: GM. Click to enlarge.

At or below the 10 grams level, Freese said, the fuel cell system would use less platinum than current catalytic converters for combustion engines.

Commercialization. GM has not yet announced the vehicle that the second-generation design will go into for its first tests; however, Freese noted that the fuel cell technology works very well in the family-size vehicles. For an Equinox, for example, roughly 123 kW of energy is required to move the vehicle, according to Freese. The current Equinox fuel cell vehicle uses as stack that produces 93 kW.

A system off of a Gen 2 architecture to fit into the same vehicle would be around 87 kW...we strike a balance between the battery and the fuel cell.

—Charles Freese

While continuing to develop technical improvements to the basic fuel cell system, GM is focused on steps toward commercializing the technology. Freese, who prior to his role with fuel cells was executive director for GM’s diesel engines, noted a number of similarities in the development of propulsion systems.

A lot of the way that we develop technologies for production are the same, no matter what kind of propulsion system. What surprised me were not the things I thought. I find similarities in so many areas with developing a diesel powertrain. [What surprised me] were the things I didn’t anticipate until getting into it.

In terms of the similarities, you think of some of the technologies on board. We faced challenges in injection systems and noise. Those are common problems on diesel powertrains. The challenges that you have to overcome are very similar. Another area is the turbo on the diesel or the compressor on the fuel cell. You are moving air and using a rotating’s very similar. As you look at the design, you can find part after part that uses things that use similar tools, you develop test them, prove that they are ready for production. You really can draw across the disciplines.

—Charles Freese

GM, says Freese, is developing the second generation system on a 2015 timeframe. The company is currently in the pre-development phase, and is roughly a little over a year before making a development commitment.

GM has invested more than $1.5 billion in fuel cell technology and we are committed to continuing to invest, but we no longer can go it alone. As we approach a costly part of the program, we will require government and industry partnerships to install a hydrogen infrastructure and help create a customer pull for the products.

—Charles Freese



Well gee, only $1000 of platinum...then all of the standard processing and manufacturing costs.

You probably only spend about $100 on all the raw materials for an entire engine (if even that much).

Of course, a fuel cell vehicle battery will probably be small enough such that the fuel cell costs + battery are equivalent to a BEV battery costs.


"fuel cell vehicle battery will probably be small enough"
Not true. A fuel cell vehicle is a series hybrid with the fuel cell replacing the genset. A Fuel cell is a constant current source, unlike a battery which is a constant voltage source. To get more current you pump but fuel, but the response time is like 1 minute.


According to Project Driveway, "more than 100" fuel cell Equinox's were driven twenty-two (22) months (since November 2007) for a million miles total:


Each year had five leases - each 65 days long.

That leaves over a week between leases to repair or replace the fuel cells, which would only have an average one thousand miles of use.

No wonder Nobel Laureate Sec. of Energy Steven Chu said that fuel cell vehicles (FCV) DON'T HAVE:
• fuel cell durability
• fuel cell cost
• hydrogen storage
• hydrogen distribution infrastructure

Now, add a six-figure FCV price, oil companies producing the hydrogen, and we can pay even more for personal transportation while maintaining big auto/oil model for perhaps another hundred years.


But dursun, doesn't the fuel cell (like a gen set) only have to generate the average power needed, plus some extra (20% ?) to "get ahead" charging the battery?

It would NOT be like the Volt -
For a FCV, they do NOT need a large AER.

On the other hand, I don't recall any discussions of how well a FCV will do in the mountains; maybe 1/2 hour of almost steady, steep climbing (4 to 8% grade) is what you need for S-N travel in AZ; and I don’t mean at 40 mph while the big trucks roar past you.


"doesn't the fuel cell (like a gen set) only have to generate the average power"
Who decides what is average power and for which topology?
If you want something useful for everywhere and everyone, you take the conservative Toyota approach.

The point is a Fools Cell is not a replace for batteries.
It is a series architecture, therefore you have the same problem, whether Fool-Cell or ICE, to solve: how do you proportion battery power vs fueled power. Since the Fool-cell is horrendously expensive, a Fool-cell vehicle will minimize the Fool-cell, maximize the battery. So at the end of the day, all you got is a Chevy Volt that's even more expensive.


Interesting quote from Freese: "GM has invested more than $1.5 billion in fuel cell technology and we are committed to continuing to invest, but we no longer can go it alone. As we approach a costly part of the program, we will require government and industry partnerships to install a hydrogen infrastructure and help create a customer pull for the products." Realistically, GM has a long history of spending hundreds of millions of dollars (probably tens of billions considering the entire history of the company) going it alone on vehicles the public didn't want (ahem...Pontiac Aztec) - and they will likely continue spending hundreds of millions on this technology regardless of whether or not government incentivizes infrastructure development. What they will DEFINITELY do eventually though is figure out how to get government to buy fuel cells from them regardless if government needs them or not.


Toppatom all they are using is a compact lith ion pack that fits under the seat or a small nimh pack. The fuel cell has progressed to the point it can handle most of the effort they just need the battery to handle the instant surges.

As for cost... Remember over the entire time they have worked on fuel cells.. and that is a LONG time they have only spent 1.5 billion and yet they supposedly are making 500 of the type 4 fuel cell stacks a year... And the type 5 gen 2 fuel cell is going to go into the 10s of thousands.

On durability they got an unexpected boost in durabilty in the gen 4 stack to the point the project will continue for quite some time. Remember most of the stacks didnt die they were dissected to improve the next gen model. It will start with 120000 mile lifespan and because of the way fuel cells age that means most drivers will be able to count on a good working car for 250k miles.

On storage... we can store more h2 then many cars will need without a hitch and the goal needed for ALL vehicles is nearly already reached.

On infrastructure... those states that NEED turism and mobility will spend the money needed or they will fail simple as that.


"Who decides what is average power and for which topology?
If you want something useful for everywhere and everyone, you take the conservative Toyota approach."

I also am not convinced FCVs make any sense but;

All vehicles are compromises.

Typical vehicles do NOT provide something useful for everywhere and everyone.
Not even close - we have Civics and MB S600s; we have Hummers and Priuses; we have Geo Metros and BMWs and we have motorcycles and motor homes and on and on.

And the Toyota approach is (they claim) going to FCVs.

And the goal of the Volt is; - NO fueled power.
And the goal of an FCV is; - 100% fueled power.

But I fully agree "100% fueled power" ONLY when/if the fuel cell is no longer horrendously expensive (except for those with laundered brains that will buy whatever GM tells them to).

"GM has invested more than $1.5 billion … we are committed to continuing to invest, but we .. will require government and industry partnerships to install a hydrogen infrastructure and help create a customer pull for the products."

Holy, swindle Batman. Where do they get all that gall.

Oh sure, use my money to populate the roads with subsidized FCVs so us customers will then pull to create an HI costing many more billions.

Realistically, GM has a long history of spending billions of their own dollars on vehicles we don’t like but the public wanted (ahem trucks, SUVs) - and they spent hundreds of millions on other technologies trying to stay on top.

The Aztec was actually a rather cost effective SUV wanna-be that was cheap to develop (no styling cost)
– AND you cannot call it ugly, not any more; Webster retired the word in honor of the Aztec.

What they will apparently do now is try to get our (I mean their) government to fund fuel cell research and production and then HI, regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

Henry Gibson

The people don't know what they are doing if 123 kW is needed to move the vehicle. A single person can push a car.

This fuel cell effort is costing more than the whole EV1 effort, and its continuation should be stopped immediatly and all fuel cells crushed because no customers have bought a fuel cell vehicles with all of the development money spent.

It is just an effort to continue to pretend to CARB that ten years after the EV1, fuel cells are still the better choice.

Lets just make a super diesel with rankine (steam) energy recovery from exhaust and engine cooling.(See the Kitson-Still locomotive.) This could be done with the NOAX free piston diesel hydraulic pump with steam added.

Any hybrid, air, steam, hydraulic or electric will increase efficiency to the point that fuel cells are not even efficient enough for their costs. ..HG..


Ok, I agree, all they need is a compact lith ion or nimh pack that fits under the seat that (with regeneration, obviously) gets them through the instant (or at least temporary) surges. Maybe the first few years none will be able to cover the long climbs from Phoenix to Payson with dignity.

And progress is hard to gage (we, or at least I, don't have much of a yardstick).

I guess you are saying the 120000 mile lifespan will go 250k miles as it slowly degrades – maybe so.

They do make constant progress (seemingly) on storage and seem to have just about arrived, more or less (less, like in "what is the $/kg?")

I am not sure that those states that NEED tourism and mobility (that seems to include just about all) will simple fail if they have no HI. More like the other way around.

Any EV that takes over the world (BEV, FCEV, EV-RE or whatever) will do so slowly and with competition from all others, including the ICE.

So FCVs will be stillborn if HI is not reasonably universal. Electricity is already universal.

Can the FCV make a viable start with butanol or some other fuel that works in the pipelines?

Lastly it seems that all parts of the globe are pushing FCVs, and I cannot see grants being the only reason – there must be some promise there – time will tell.

If it’s just grants, the FCV will die soon enough.


Toppatom actualy the fuel cell car will handle a grade like that just fine as it can output its max power for as long as it has fuel.

As for the 250k lifespan its nothing different from keeping an old car thats now slightly underpowered from age. Unlike a bev where you might no longer get anywhere you will just not be quite as sporty getting there in a fuel cell car of 15 years.

Also many packs only will last AVERAGE 5 years under mild use mild weather. That fuel cell will last 8 years easy under heavy use.


"..but we no longer can go it alone." says Charles Freese, executive director of GM Fuel Cell Activities.

The Partnership for the Next Generation Vehicle (AKA SuperCar), 1993-2004, cost taxpayers $300,000,000 per year and GM fuel cell cars (FCVs) were a candidate. Naturally they failed.

The Decider's "Presidents' Hydrogen Fuel Initiative" (AKA FreedomCar FCV), 2003 - 2008, cost taxpayers $2,272,900,000 (2.27B) -

How dare these millionaire GM 'executives' lie to the public claiming we(GM) can "no longer can go it alone."

The taxpayer's own 60% of GM - so let's just close the checkbook. Anyone ever laid off or fired knows how easily the checks stop.

Taxpayers don't need their intelligence insulted in addition to the injury of owning a bankrupt 50 billion in debt 'new' GM.


"we have Geo Metros and BMWs " exactly, but the guy who buys a Geo doesn't need to haul a trailer up a mountain.
There is a Minimum for what defines a Car for Americans: I should be able to drive anywhere on the Interstate and I should be able to drive as long a my bladder holds out.
This is why the BEV is a niche for the foreseeable future.
The American definition of a Car is evolving, but slowly, barring $10/g gas.


"The American definition of a Car is evolving, but slowly, barring $10/g gas." well put, but assuming 5 to 8 years of owning a new car purchase, 2015 $10/g gas is probable.

Gas prices have doubled during three months often and one of these times prices won't fall back.

Somewhere between the $250 electric bikes transporting a 100 million Chinese and the $100,000 Teslas transporting a thousand Americans lies the electric "Model T".

Whatever combo - EV, HEV, PHEV, EV/swap-in range extender - it's out there.



Go look up the specs on GM's Equinox fuel cell vehicle. It uses a NiMH battery of 35kW total POWER. I can't imagine such a small battery pack having more than 2 or 3 kW-hrs of energy. Not exactly an expensive proposition in the least...and I'd expect a production ready version wouldn't have a much larger battery.


@ Dursun,

I think you're mistaken about BEV rechargeability times. a FULL charge takes too long for traveling on the Interstate. a 50% charge, with some technologies, might take about as long as it takes your family (or mine anyway) to go to the bathroom, decide which snacks to get, wash the car windows, complain about who gets the front seat, and mount up again (~10 minutes).

50% recharge can get you another 100 miles down the road. If you start out the day full charge, then you're looking at 350-400 miles with one ten-minute stop. 500 miles with 2 or 3 ten-minute stops. That works for most people.

@ Toppa Tom et al,
You nailed. Electricity distribution is already universal. We may want to make quick charging stations, but the infrastructure is basically there, and will just get better. H2 distribution is one of the 4 miracles required for practical fuel cells.

H2 is not an energy is a storage medium. IF the H2 comes from natural gas, we're not reducing green house gases, or acheiving sustainability.
If the H2 comes from electrolysis (waaaay tooooo expensive) we're wasting vast amounts of energy, that could have been more efficiently stored in batteries or supercaps.

I actually like Henry Gibson's NOAX free piston diesel hydraulic pump idea. I wonder if is looking at that for the 100+Mpg vehicle in the works.


@ Durson some more,
Actually, I think the model will change. You will see restaurants on the Interstate with fast charging gear in their parking lot so the driver and vehicle can take on energy at the same time. It will be additional revenue for restaurants, and a way to get money from their parking spaces. And, since the average meal takes longer than the average gasoline pitstop, it will allow longer recharges (~20-60 minutes).


Truck stops already have restaurants, but the latest trend (from the last 10 years) has been to add fast food locations into "integrated" gas stations. They already have that part nailed.

Now they just need fast charge stations with a nice little surcharge and target ROI of 18 months or less and everything else after that is money in the bank. If I knew I had to charge a vehicle I'd be more likely to eat a full meal rather than grab a candybar and gatorade for the road leading to greater revenues for their restaurants (whether they be fast food or a casual diner).


Um ya sept people dont eat a full meal every few hours as they try to get to grandmas;/


Um ya sept people dont eat a full meal every few hours as they try to get to grandmas;/

Maybe not but that's only one reason you could choose to stop long enough for a recharge. About a hour after you've stopped for food somebody's going to need to answer the call of nature. A couple of hours after that and you'll be stopping to take pictures of a waterfall, the-world's-biggest-ball-of-yarn, or Bubba's gator farm. And a hour before you reach grandma's you'll remember you need to buy her some flowers and chocolates.

Thomas Pedersen

And in case you didn't forget to buy flowers, is it really so inconceivable that drivers would be willing to make this small sacrifice for saving money (per mile driven) and the world (supposedly)?

Even so, I don't see more than 50 miles electric range making sense in the forseable future considering how small, cheap and efficient range extenders could be made given there is a market for it. The extra 150 mile battery range is a lot of weight to carry around all the time for sporadic use. Maybe the range-extender-on-a-trailer solution that I used to snicker about might be a solution... I'd hate to drive around with a trailer on my sleek, futuristic, aerodynamic BEV though!


It's amazing the amount of beating around the bush they will do to try to mislead us away from the obvious, simplest, most cost effective solution that can be suppressed no longer -- BEV's and PHEV's with 60 mile range. On the highway you have fast recharge stations. Or rent a genset pusher trailer to get you there fast if you don't want to stop. Or just get a PHEV that has no range limit. The transition is happening now. Competitively priced Lithium based BEV's will be out next year. In 2014 when Chevron's patent expires very competitive ones using NiMH batteries will be out. How much more of taxpayers' money are they going to waste until they finally reconfigure their neurons to realize this is a dead end? I mean, talk about beating a dead horse.


I love how so many cant get the simple fact that they arnt making these cars for you. They are making them for OTHER PEOPLE who want them and will pay for them.

So basicaly you spouting on and on about how silly they are is about as mature as a 2 year old angry that every part of the world isnt a playground.

Researchers at Brigham Young University have developed a fuel cell – basically a battery with a gas tank – that harvests electricity from glucose and other sugars known as carbohydrates.
The effectiveness of this cheap and abundant herbicide is a boon to carbohydrate-based fuel cells. By contrast, hydrogen-based fuel cells like those developed by General Motors require costly platinum as a catalyst...

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