GM’s HydroGen3 Hydrogen In Electricity Out

September 3, 2004 – Lou Ann Hammond and Keith Cole from General Motors discuss GM’s HydroGen3 hydrogen prototype vehicle with syndicated ABC radio network host John Batchelor.

ABC’s John Batchelor has talked about ridding ourselves of dependence on oil by finding alternatives. While the rest of the press in New York City was readying for the 2004 Republican National Convention, John Batchelor was driving a multimillion-dollar, hand-built, prototype car of the future around Tavern on the Green.

The HydroGen3 is based on different concepts that General Motors has patented. It is the third generation fuel cell vehicle by General Motors, hence the catchy name, HydroGen3. General Motors understands that they cannot develop a vehicle without the energy to sustain it. Back in the 1920s, General Motors Research Laboratories developed Ethyl gasoline, a knockless gasoline that worked well with their vehicles, which was eventually bought by Standard Oil.

The HydroGen3 is not powered by an internal combustion engine, but by a fuel cell and an electric motor. It is a five-seat front-wheel-drive minivan based on Europe’s Opel Zafira minivan. The hardware fit’s completely out of sight, including the air conditioner. There are no instructions needed, to start the car you turn the key, then put your foot on the brake. There is no gear shift to move, but an “up” arrow, such as is on a remote control.

There is a difference, but not in drivability. The difference is in the shifting of gears. My good friend, Warren Brown from the Washington Post, explained it best by saying that it is akin to shifting a motorcycle.

Remember, this is the same fuel, combined with oxygen, which puts space rockets up into space. The torque starts at 0 rpm.

According to Pete Barkey, General Motors Advanced Technology Communications, “The HydroGen3 goes 0-60 in about 16 seconds and gets about 100 horsepower. The instant thrust, torque, is felt immediately when one steps on the throttle.” In an internal combustion engine, torque is derived by how well the engine is meted with the transmission. The low-end torque on hydrogen cars is derived from hydrogen. ”

The “bump” beneath the second-row seat is the hydrogen tank. The engine is a 3-phase asynchronous AC electric motor.

“The HydroGen3 Mr. Batchelor drove is a 700 bar compressed hydrogen tank located two-thirds back, produces 75 kilowatts of output. The 700 bar system can increase the range of fuel cell vehicles by up to 50 percent over a comparably sized 350 bar (5,000 psi) system, currently used by the rest of the industry. To date, GM is the only automaker operating vehicles with the 700 bar system.”

“The fuel cell stack is just that; a stack of fuel cells, in this case, 200 of them. A fuel cell is about the size of a license plate. The stack, about the size of a briefcase, is located under the hood. Each fuel cell emits .7 volts of electricity so that this HydroGen3 can emit approximately 75 kilowatts.”

“Hydrogen storage is one of the keys to making fuel cell technology commercially viable,” said Larry Burns, GM vice president, research and development, and planning. “We’re making progress, and we’re confident we’ll achieve the ranges that customers will demand.”

One needs to remember that these are the early days of hydrogen cars. We have been lucky to see the changes that have happened in internal combustion engines. Some of the newest technology we are using in internal combustion engines was not available when the first car was produced. Hydrogen cars will be the same. It’s part of the reason the older cars are so revered today.

The multi-million dollar car that John Batchelor drove around New York on that sunny day won’t be available to purchase. It’s a prototype that will go through many changes before it is mass produced and brought down to a reasonable price for the ultimate consumer.

Manufacturers aren’t crazy about us telling you that a minivan costs over $2,000,000 to produce. They’re afraid people will think it is cost prohibitive; at two million dollars it would be cost prohibitive.

The first $2,000,000 I drove was a car that looked like a corvette that had new technology on it called Anti-Lock Braking system. At first, ABS was on only the most expensive cars, but once the technology was received and the cost amortized, the prices came down. Now ABS is on almost all cars as standard equipment.

One can expect the first mass-produced car to cost somewhere between $55,000 and $75,000. For the first time in over 100 years, there are alternatives with the potential to substantially increase fuel economy and reduce emissions without sacrificing the functionality the customers are purchasing today.

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.

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