In the ongoing pursuit of greener and more fuel-efficient vehicle technology, General Motors has joined forces with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) to develop and test new hydrogen fuel cell technology. Both GM and TARDEC will jointly test hydrogen fuel cell-related designs and materials, according to a recent press release from GM. GM’s bold move in pioneering new fuel cell technology is sure to have positive effects on the future of hydrogen-powered cars in the U.S.
An Explanation of Fuel Cell Technology
Hydrogen fuel cell technology isn’t something you’ll see in today’s new cars. However, it’s a goal that GM has pursued since it first began fuel cell testing in 1964. According to Clean Energy Patent Growth Index, the company ranked number one in total fuel cell patents filed between 2002 and 2012.
A fuel cell utilizes hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to produce an electrical current. An anode within the fuel cell breaks down hydrogen gas into positive hydrogen ions and negatively charged electrons. A polymer electrolyte membrane allows the positively charged ions to pass through directly to the cathode while forcing the negatively charged electrons along an external electrical circuit to the cathode, creating an electrical current. At the cathode, both the positive hydrogen ions and negatively charged electrons combine with oxygen, forming water as a byproduct. The majority of fuel cells produce less than 1.16 volts of electricity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. As a result, multiple cells are bundled together into a stack to deliver the energy needed for an ordinary vehicle.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology is held in high regard for its ability to produce clean energy, but one of the many hurdles faced by automakers involves the expensive, complicated and potentially dangerous high-pressure storage containers needed for storing hydrogen onboard. One of the major goals shared by GM and TARDEC is to design a safe storage tank capable of standing up to the rigors of life in combat zones and everyday use in ordinary passenger vehicles.
A Joint Effort
According to the International Business Times, the U.S. Army’s interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology stems from a desire to develop more efficient ground systems in response to reductions in defense spending. Meanwhile, GM’s collaboration with TARDEC comes in response to Toyota’s efforts in developing clean vehicles. The Japanese automaker is expected to reveal a production-ready hydrogen fuel cell car in Las Vegas sometime in January, with an aim towards bringing it to market by 2015.
The collaborative effort between GM and TARDEC exists for a relatively pragmatic reason – by combining their efforts, both groups believe they’ll be able to work more efficiently and develop viable solutions quicker than with independent efforts. Both groups will conduct their research at TARDEC’s Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory (GSPEL) in Warren, Michigan and GM’s new Fuel Cell Development Laboratory in nearby Pontiac, Michigan.
GM’s partnership with TARDEC comes after the company’s announcement of a long-term, definitive master agreement with Honda to jointly develop next-generation fuel cell system and hydrogen storage technologies by 2020.
About the author: Daniel Sloan
Danny is an auto mechanic who specializes in hybrids and EVs. He’s married with two boys and lives on the East Coast.