GENEVA - General Motors says it has taken big steps toward a production-ready fuel cell system.
At the Geneva International Motor Show, GM showed off an Opel Zafira minivan powered by its seventh-generation fuel cell system. With the latest Zafira fuel cell demonstration vehicle, GM says it has:
Cut the size of a fuel cell system in half
Improved cold-start performance
Still, GM President Rick Wagoner said a viable fuel cell production vehicle is at least four or five years away. Many more advances are necessary before a fuel cell is ready for production, he said.
Just six months ago, Wagoner, a former basketball player, could barely fit inside a Zafira equipped with a past-generation fuel cell system. By comparison, the new fuel cell powered Zafira comfortably seats four adults.
Not only has GM cut the size of the system in half and repackaged it more efficiently in the Zafira, it has cut in half the amount of expensive platinum in the system. As a result, GM said it has reduced the system cost significantly.
The Zafira's new fuel cell system also represents a step up in cold-start performance. At minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, it achieves full power in 30 seconds, nearly 12 times as fast as the old system. At minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit, it reaches full power in 60 seconds.
'The customer turns the ignition key, and he wants to have full power (immediately),' said Erhard Schubert, director of GM's global alternative propulsion center in Russelsheim, Germany. 'We are, of course, not there. But compared to the situation a year ago, when we did not know how to start that (fuel cell) stack at freezing temperatures, we have made a lot of progress.'
GM figured out how to make use of the fuel cell stack's internal heat capacity to heat the system. Schubert said GM must speed the heating process and eliminate water vapor from the system before it can freeze.
'If we solve those principles - basic physics and chemistry - we've solved the problem,' he said.
'This (the Zafira) is our development platform.'
The latest fuel cell Zafira will be the pace vehicle for the marathon at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.