GM adds fuel cell partners to cut cost

Networking
GM is building a broader fuel cell alliance


  • Quantum Technologies High-pressure hydrogen fuel tanks

  • General Hydrogen Hydrogen refueling stations

  • Giner Hydrogen for stationary fuel cells

  • Suzuki Motor Small vehicle for GM fuel cell

  • Hydrogenics Test and diagnostic equipment

  • To share the cost of developing fuel cell vehicles, General Motors has expanded a partnership with one company and added two partners.

    The partners are:

  • Suzuki Motor Corp., which will work with GM to build a compact fuel cell vehicle by 2010, possibly for Asian and European markets.

  • Hydrogenics Corp., a Toronto company that is developing fuel cell diagnostic monitoring and control equipment and electrochemical subsystems for fuel cells. GM will take a 24 percent ownership stake in the company. Terms were not disclosed.

  • Giner, Inc., a Newton, Mass., company with expertise in hydrogen generation and fuel cell units for stationary power. Giner and GM will work on a system of generating hydrogen with electrolyzers. Such a system could create hydrogen for stationary fuel cells or refill fuel cell vehicles.

    Stationary is first step

    A fuel cell generates pollution-free electricity from hydrogen through a chemical reaction. GM plans to introduce stationary fuel cells for homes and small businesses in three years. By 2008, GM says it will sell fuel cell vehicles to utilities and other large fleet customers. Mass production for consumers could start by 2010.

    GM also is considering using stationary fuel cells to power offices and factories, which could save the automaker as much as 50 percent on electricity in the buildings where fuel cells are used.

    GM wants to produce stationary fuel cells to get consumers used to the new power source and generate a revenue stream to offset development costs. Christine Sloane, GM's director of technology and strategy development, said the automaker is spending at least $100 million a year on fuel cells.

    Thad Malesh, director of alternative power technologies for J.D. Power and Associates, said: "In general, GM's strategy has changed a little bit. They realize the expense in doing this is enormous. Post Sept. 11, the financial risks are even greater. I don't think they think they can handle all the development costs themselves."

    Other automakers also are working on fuel cells or vehicles with an internal combustion engine that uses hydrogen as its fuel. Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. are working with Ballard Power Systems of Vancouver, British Columbia, on fuel cell vehicles powered by methanol or pure hydrogen. Ballard also is developing stationary fuel cells that could power a house. BMW and Ford are exploring internal combustion engines fueled directly by hydrogen.

    Reformer required

    GM's plan, which is the most risky, complex and expensive, involves developing an in-vehicle gasoline reformer that extracts hydrogen from gasoline.

    That would enable motorists to fill up their cars the same as usual. A separate fueling infrastructure would have to be developed for hydrogen or methanol.

    This year, GM invested in two other companies, Quantum Technologies of Irvine, Calif., a maker of high-pressure hydrogen fuel tanks, and General Hydrogen, a developer of hydrogen refueling technology.

  • You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com

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