MRO Magazine

GM’s new stationary fuel cells unit could power a manufacturing plant; GM also launches fuel-cell based pickup truck

Traverse City, Mich. -- Aug. 8, 2001 -- General Motors' fuel cell program is rapidly paving the way for a time when...


August 8, 2001
By MRO Magazine

Traverse City, Mich. — Aug. 8, 2001 — General Motors’ fuel cell program is rapidly paving the way for a time when fuel cells power not only automobiles, but homes, businesses and even manufacturing plants.

GM has just added a stationary power unit capable of powering a house to its list of research and development inventions.

Yesterday, Larry Burns, GM vice-president for research and development, and planning, drove up to the unit in a Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck powered by the world’s first gasoline reformer at the University of Michigan Automotive Briefing Seminar.

“Last year, when I was here to announce that GM was revving up the fuel cell race, the gasoline fuel processor was so large I couldn’t bring it to show you,” Burns said. “Today, I am happy to report that the fuel processor is significantly smaller than it was a year ago. And as an added bonus, we’ve produced a stationary power unit, which provides a new, innovative way to supply electricity to homes and businesses.”


GM has significantly increasing the power output of its fuel cell components while dramatically reducing their size.

The prototype stationary unit — capable of running on natural gas, methane or gasoline — incorporates the same fuel processor and stack technology used on experimental vehicles to convert gasoline into a high-quality stream of hydrogen that powers the fuel cell.

“In terms of power, our technology is easily scaled up or down,” Burns added. “A unit could be built to power… a manufacturing plant.”

A fuel cell used as a stationary power source could help meet the growing demand for electricity with a unit that will be only about the size of a refrigerator. It’s even possible that stationary units could be on the market before fuel cell-powered vehicles, Burns said.

“At this point, we have made no business decisions regarding the application of our technology to stationary power, but we have been contacted by several companies regarding the possibility of working together to commercialize stationary, distributed generator units,” said Burns.

GM revealed the new technologies at the four-day Management Briefing Seminars, co-hosted by the Center for Automotive Research of the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan, the Center for Professional Development of the University of Michigan College of Engineering and the U-M Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.


In related news, General Motors also unveiled the world’s first gasoline fuel processor for fuel cell propulsion.

The Gen III processor, packaged in a Chevrolet S-10 pickup, reforms “clean” gasoline onboard, extracting a stream of hydrogen to send to the fuel cell stack.

“When combined with our fuel cell stack, the technology has the potential to obtain 40 percent overall energy efficiency, which is about 50 percent better than a conventional internal combustion engine, said GM’s Larry Burns.

“Today, we’re proud to show you that processor on a Chevrolet S-10 pickup, the world’s first gasoline-fed fuel cell electric vehicle. This is possible because we’ve been able to reduce our processor size by a factor of three without sacrificing efficiency.”

Onboard gasoline reforming is significant because all other fuel cells run on either pure hydrogen or hydrogen extracted from methanol, Burns explained.

“But, right now, you can’t get hydrogen or methanol at your corner gas station and it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to create such an infrastructure,” he said. “Developing gasoline-fed fuel cells makes the technology much more attainable — even within this decade.”

GM intends to make gasoline-fed fuel cells an interim strategy until a hydrogen infrastructure is established. Driving demonstrations will be scheduled for early next year.

The Gen III gasoline processor also offers faster start times than the previous version, with the capability of starting in less than three minutes compared to the previous 15-minute start times. It has a peak efficiency of 80 per cent.

“Our Gen III takes gasoline and cracks it into its hydrogen components,” said Burns. “To our knowledge, no one else has cracked gasoline in an onboard system.”

The truck also features GM’s Stack 2000, which generates electricity cleanly and efficiently from the hydrogen and oxygen fed to it. This is the same stack technology GM used to set 11 endurance records for vehicles powered by fuel cells in May. GM’s HydroGen1 completed 862 miles in a 24-hour endurance run at the company’s desert proving grounds in Mesa, Ariz.

The S-10 fuel cell generates 25 kilowatts, which translates roughly into 33 hp. The truck’s fuel processor and stack combine to power a battery charger for the vehicle’s electric drivetrain.

“Of course there’s a long way to go on several fronts. We are, after all, undertaking a historic change in transportation and propulsion technology,” Burns said. “However, we’re very encouraged by our rapid rate of progress and the exciting benefits of fuel cell vehicles.”