GM unveils fuel-cell powered truck

By Nikki Tait in Chicago - Aug 07 2001 19:18:11

General Motors, the world's largest automaker, unveiled a pick-up truck powered by a gasoline-fed fuel cell system - a technology which it claims provides a 50 per cent improvement in energy efficiency over a traditional internal combustion engine. 

The demonstration model is particularly significant because it uses gasoline as its primary feed. An onboard processor then cracks the gasoline into hydrogen components, and then feeds the hydrogen to the fuel cell stack. This is then used along with oxygen to generate electricity, which powers the vehicle's electric drive system. 

By contrast, most fuel cells to date have run either on pure hydrogen or hydrogen extracted from methanol - which is commercially problematic for the auto industry since there is no network for distributing either one to millions of car-drivers. With a gasoline-fed fuel cell technology, the existing network of gas/petrol stations would continue to provide the core fuel distribution infrastructure. 

GM saidon Tuesday that it planned to make gasoline-fed fuel cells an "interim strategy" until a hydrogen infrastructure was established. It also claimed that the onboard "cracking" system was an industry first: "To our knowledge, no one else has cracked gasoline in an onboard system," said Larry Burns, vice-president of research and development. The company, which packaged the system in a Chevrolet S-10 pick-up truck, has hopes of developing commercially-viable fuel cell-powered vehicles towards the end of the current decade. 

GM also unveiled a prototype of a stationary fuel cell system which could be to generate power in homes or offices - an area of growing interest in the wake of the US's recent energy problems. 

Two new directors have been appointed to the GM board - Alan Lafley, chief executive of Proctor & Gamble, the large US consumer products group, and Stanley O'Neal, chief operating officer, at Merrill Lynch. The latter will join immediately, while Mr Lafley's appointment takes effect in January. The board size will be returned to 13 directors as a result, after two former board members retired earlier this year. 


© Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2001.