General Motors will have a fuel cell unit ready for commercial sale within two to three years. But it will generate clean electricity for houses, not vehicles.
|2001 Management Briefing Seminars index|
The stationary fuel cell program was one of four developments GM discussed at its press event. The three others were:
1. GM announced the first fuel cell vehicle that uses an on-board gasoline reformer. Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research and development, drove the fuel cell-powered Chevrolet S10.
2. The fuel cell stack in the fuel cell truck generates 25 percent more power than the same-sized stack used in the HydroGen 1, which set 11 speed and endurance records for fuel cell vehicles in May.
3. The size of the reformer, which converts gasoline into hydrogen for the fuel cell, has been reduced to a point where it fits inside the truck.
While the auto industry has focused on an eight- to 10-year horizon for using fuel cells to power vehicles, putting stationary fuel cells into production sooner will help engineers refine the technology faster and lead to high-volume production of components, which will bring down the fuel cell's cost.
The stationary fuel cell would enable homeowners to disconnect from the power grid. Natural gas, methane or gasoline can power the GM fuel cell. It could save homeowners as much as 30 percent on their monthly electricity bills, the source estimated.
With most of the technical hurdles out of the way, GM now is seeking a partner to build the fuel cell, which is small enough to fit inside a Chevrolet Suburban.
"We need a partner to make it happen," the source said.
No estimate was available on how much the unit will cost.
Such technology holds the promise of alleviating power shortages such as those that have plagued California this year.
GM has committed billions of dollars to fuel cell development and has been pushing for industry leadership. It plans to introduce a test fleet of the fuel cell vehicles in 2008 and begin volume production by 2010. GM's goal is to be the first automaker to sell 1 million fuel cell vehicles.
Since there is no infrastructure to deliver hydrogen directly to vehicles, GM believes that extracting hydrogen directly from gasoline will be the quickest way to bring the technology to market.