Renewables May Get Boost With GM and Hydrogen Initiatives

With all the publicity surrounding the announcement by General Motors of its car that operates on hydrogen fuel cells, the implications for renewable power sources was given brief mention.

DETROIT, Michigan, US, 2002-01-23 [] “More than 100 years after the automobile’s invention, only 12 percent of the world’s population currently enjoy its benefits”, notes GM vice president Larry Burns, who described the AUTOnomy vehicle chassis as a power source on wheels. “All of AUTOnomy’s essential systems, including the fuel cell stack and on-board hydrogen storage system, are neatly packaged in the flat, skateboard-like chassis,” says a company description. “The unit is intended to last for years, much longer than a conventional vehicle. This universal ‘skateboard’ chassis simplifies manufacturing and service, and enables a wide variety of vehicles to be built on a small number of platforms with much shorter product development cycles.” “The car or truck would not only be transportation, but would also be a power source,” explains Burns. “Imagine the impact of a vehicle that can provide transportation, power or heat. And we’ve only scratched the surface of what this idea might do.” With a simple plug-on body designs, AUTOnomy could use a single chassis in developing countries as the common base for luxury limousines or farm vehicles. With a 42 volt electrical system, it is configured to run any number of devices. A sports version was unveiled at the Detroit international auto show, and GM says it will have a driving prototype by the end of this year. At the same show, the U.S. government said it is replacing funding for conventional fuel efficiency research in favour of a new national initiative on fuel cells. Energy secretary Spencer Abraham, with executives of Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler, launched a cooperative automotive research partnership between the Department of Energy and the U.S. Council for Automotive Research. The public-private partnership will “promote the development of hydrogen as a primary fuel for cars and trucks, as part of our effort to reduce American dependence on foreign oil,” he said. Under the ‘Freedom CAR’ program, government and the private sector will fund research into advanced fuel cell technology. The long-term results of using hydrogen to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil will be “cars and trucks that are more efficient, cheaper to operate, pollution-free and competitive in the showroom,” he added. Freedom CAR will require a significant investment by both government and industry, and will involve a concerted long-term effort. A formal partnership agreement is expected within the next few months. The U.S. transportation sector depends on oil for 95 percent of fuel, and the sector consume 67 percent of petroleum used in the U.S. The federal government and industry say the steady growth of imported oil (10 million barrels a day) cannot continue. Altering the overall U.S. petroleum consumption pattern will require a multi-tiered approach, including policy and research programs, they explain. Freedom CAR’s long-term goal is to develop technologies for hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles that will require no oil and emit no harmful pollutants or GHG. Freedom CAR replaces the former ‘Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles’ program. Rather than aiming for a 80 mpg car, the transition of vehicles from gasoline to hydrogen is viewed as critical and Freedom CAR will focus on technologies that enable mass production of hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles and the hydrogen supply support infrastructure. A third development at the Detroit event was the unveiling by DaimlerChrysler of experimental minivan, the Natrium, which uses an under-floor Millenium fuel cell to generate hydrogen power from a mixture of sodium borohydride, a derivative of the detergent agent borax. The system will be road tested in the next few months, and will have a range of 300 miles. In Japan, Toyota reportedly has revealed that it will develop fuel cell vehicles that travel up to three times the normal distance of gasoline vehicles, and further than any of fuel cell cars. At present, the range of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is 300 km, but Toyota hopes to increase this to 1,500 km in its FCHV-5 prototype, which will be fuelled by gasoline processed into hydrogen using an onboard reformer.
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