gasoline prices again nearing $2 a gallon, the auto
industry has come under growing pressure to produce
cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles. But General
Motors sees a future in which the century-old internal-combustion
engine is abandoned entirely in favor of cars and
trucks powered by hydrogen-based electric fuel cells.
its latest step
toward realizing that distant vision, the No. 1 automaker
Tuesday said it will make a substantial
investment in a California company that has come up
with a way to double or triple the effective cruising
range of a fuel cell-powered vehicle to 500 miles.
GM did not provide financial
details but said it would take a 20 percent stake
in Quantum Technologies of Irvine, Calif., which focuses
on storage solutions for alternative energy power.
This agreement will
enable our two companies to work together on bringing
fuel cell vehicles to the market, said Larry
Burns, GM vice president for research and development
and planning. It is a logical next step on
the long road to a hydrogen-based economy.
Shares of Impco Technologies,
the parent company of Quantum, rose $2.80 to $39.82
on the news.
said GM decided to invest in Quantum partly because
of the companys breakthrough in developing
a tank capable of carrying hydrogen aboard a car or
truck under the extremely high pressure of 10,000
pounds per square inch, four times the current standard.
The increase would translate to a cruising range of
300 to 500 miles without refueling, compared with
100 or 150 miles under the current standard.
In terms of hydrogen
storage, getting up into this kind of range is really
the holy grail we were looking for, so its
pretty exciting, Burns said at a news conference
to announce the stepped-up partnership.
Fuel cells, which use hydrogen
fuel to continuously produce a stream of current to
an electric motor, are considered one of the most
exciting technologies for powering advanced vehicles
because water is the only emission and hydrogen is
readily available for extraction rom existing fuels
your local business news
Unfortunately, the issue
of on-board hydrogen storage is far from the only
major hurdle standing in the way of a future in which
millions of fuel cell-powered vehicles quietly prowl
First proponents of the
technology have to figure out a way to get hydrogen
to the masses in a world whose infrastrucutre is set
up for dependence on gasoline and other petroleum-based
and other automakers hope to solve the problem by
developing cars with devices that create hydrogen
on board as it is needed
using gasoline as
a fuel. The vehicles still would have very low emissions
because the gasoline would be transformed chemically
with no combustion, and the electric engines would
be rougly twice as efficient as current internal-combustion
models, GM officials said.
Burns said GM is working
with oil companies on a new gasoline formula that
would be more suitable for extracting hydrogen. He
said that would be a better solution than proposed
alternative fuels like methanol, which is more toxic
than gasoline, though it reduces emissions.
second transition step would involve transforming
gasoline into hydrogen at the service station level
and storing it on board, eliminating the need for
a reforming system on every vehicle.
Finally, Burns sees a world where hydrogen is created
in mass quantities through electrolysis from sea water.
that is years if not decades in the future. For now,
GM has committed to putting a working proptotype vehicle
on the road by March 2002, and a spokesman said the
company very well could do it sooner. Burns said that
by 2010 he expects hundreds of thousands
of vehicles on the road powered by hydrogen fuel cells,
mostly buses or other fleet-purchased vehicles rather
than individual passenger cars. Thats just
a tiny fraction of the 56 million new vehicles that
roll off the worlds assembly lines each year,
but Burns and other GM officials believe that fuel
cell-powered vehicles ultimately will come to dominate
We see that as a
natural evolution, said Pete Barkey, a spokesman
for GM, who added that gasoline and electric-powered
vehicles would co-exist on the roads for quite
some time. As to when fuel cells would become
the dominant power train for automobiles, Barkey said,
I wouldnt even dare to put a decade
GM said it planned another
major announcement on fuel cell technology Wednesday
but declined to provide details.
Christine Farkas, an analyst
at Merrill Lynch, said in a note to clients that the
GM announcements (add) credibility to the fuel
cell industry, and especially to the fuel cell vehicle
industry, as many auto makers will need to be involved
for this to be a mass market.