Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hydrogen GM vehicles pass real-world test

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Hydrogen GM vehicles pass real-world test
John McCormick / Special to The Detroit News

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- A 300-plus-mile odyssey Tuesday across rural New York in a Chevrolet Sequel hydrogen vehicle -- without refueling -- underscored General Motors Corp.'s commitment to produce a commercial fuel cell vehicle within four years.

The real-world fuel mileage test not only proved that hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles can compete with conventional vehicles on range, but that they can do it without producing any emissions. Even the electricity used to produce the hydrogen was from a green source -- Niagara Falls.

Larry Burns, GM's vice president for research and development, says the next step is to continue work on production engineering of the Chevrolet Volt fuel cell E-flex system, which contains the same basic fuel cell, battery and electric drive combination as the Sequel.

The decision to go ahead with production engineering of the Volt -- with a plug-in, gasoline engine version as well as the fuel cell variant -- was recently firmed up.

"We are now entering into a mainstream vehicle production process that typically lasts three to four years," Burns says. "We are no longer in the skunkworks stage."

In the New York test, GM put its two existing Sequel development vehicles on a cross-country run that included numerous hills and temperatures in the mid-80s. Despite the challenges, both vehicles completed the run with only a few precautionary stops to check on temporary fault readings from sub-systems.

The vehicles each used less than seven kilograms of compressed hydrogen and averaged an equivalent of 43 mpg, impressive for large bodied SUV-style vehicles that weigh 5300 pounds.

"What makes this different is we're on real roads with real speeds," Burns said. "We've taken the world's most technologically advanced vehicle on a 300-mile road trip to show we've overcome a big hurdle toward commercializing our fuel cell vehicles -- achieving the driving range expected by today's consumers.

"Sequel and GM's other fuel cell vehicles address these very real concerns pointing the way to a new energy future a future in which hydrogen is a common energy currency for our vehicles in which hydrogen and electricity become interchangeable energy carriers in which both are created from diverse, and largely renewable, energy resources."

End of line for Sequel

Many of the same engineers and technicians who developed the Sequel are now on the Volt team. The Sequel gets a power boost with the help of a pack of lithium-ion batteries, the same as those found in computers and cell phones.

However, the Sequel has no plug-in capability and can only drive for a few miles on stored energy once the hydrogen tanks are empty. The test vehicles also carry a host of technologies, such as steer-and brake-by-wire controls instead of standard hydraulics, wheel hub motors and a lighter weight aluminum structure.

The 300-mile voyage was a victory for GM, but in some ways the end of the line for the Sequel. The Sequel is packed with GM's fourth-generation fuel cell stack. But GM's fifth generation, designed to fit snuggly into the Volt, is half the size.

The concept fuel cell system also will propel the Volt an estimated 300 miles. Included in that range is about 20 miles worth of electricity stored from plug-in battery power.

Engineers working on the Sequel said they've managed a 30 percent increase in energy efficiency since September. Chris Borroni-Bird, GM's director of advanced technology vehicle concepts, said the Sequel will be indicative of future automobiles, which will benefit from advancements in electronics rather than mechanics.

"We haven't changed any of the hardware (since September)," Borroni-Bird said. "We've improved the software."

John McCormick is a Detroit News online columnist.

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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