GM Takes Lead with 100 Hydrogen Equinoxes

GM Takes Lead with 100 Hydrogen Equinoxes

Equinox Fuel CellTim Powers, GM Western Regional Manager, revealed more details of the GM Project Driveway at the California Hydrogen Business Council meeting. GM will select at least 100 initial drivers of the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell from people applying to participate at chevy.com. GM Application

My past drives of the Equinox Fuel Cell demonstrated that it offered a smooth drive comparable to the gasoline Equinox, a roomy four-door crossover vehicle. Due to the added need for hydrogen fuel storage, it is a four-seater instead of five in the gasoline Equinox. Conventional gasoline vehicles emit about 20 pounds of greenhouse gases with every gallon burned. The Equinox Fuel Cell only emits water vapor.

Most drivers that GM will select will live in California within ten miles of 700 bar hydrogen stations located from San Diego to Burbank, California. They are likely to include everyone from Marines to Mouseketeers. GM will also select drivers in other parts of the U.S. including Metro New York and Washington D.C. and other countries including Germany, China, Korea, and Japan. Five different types of drivers will be selected by GM:

  • Media
  • Public policy makers
  • Celebrities and influentials
  • Mainstream drivers
  • Fleets

Most individuals will try the vehicle for three months. It is a free trail with GM covering the vehicle, insurance, maintenance, and fuel. Fleets will put the vehicles through more extensive 30 month tests. For example, Disney will be using ten for employee use in Southern California for 30 months. Fleets could also include universities, city government, military, taxis, and delivery. Over three years, 300 to 500 people are likely to try the vehicles for three months each.

One of the first drivers will be David Shelton a computer systems operator from Irvine. This will be his fourth electric vehicle. He tried General Motors’ EV1 in the late ’90s, experimented with a Ford Think City electric car and, since 2002, has owned a Toyota RAV4 EV. The Equinox Fuel Cell is an electric vehicle with an electric drive motor, no engine, nickel metal hydride batteries, and a hydrogen fuel cell which generates electricity.

GM is making a priority of customer support. At the heart of the support is OnStar. OnStar is GM’s in-vehicle safety and security system. OnStar’s innovative three-button system offers: 24-hour access to one of 6, and later 12, Equinox Fuel Cell Advisors; a connection to emergency assistance; and access to OnStar Hands-Free Calling. Each driver will have one person to deal with at GM, a driver relationship manager. All drivers will receive training. OnStar and the Advisor will recommend maintenance. Detailed data acquisition and analysis will help GM develop a knowledge base that will influence the roll-out of the next generation fuel cell vehicle.

Customer support will include three dedicated service hubs for vehicle prep, training, deliver, maintenance and vehicle return. The hubs are at Burbank, CA; Ardsley, NY; and at U.S. Army Ft. Belvoir, VA.

Three dealers will also be active in customer training and support. This will help GM prepare for large-scale sales and support of vehicles with electric drive systems. The initial dealers will be in California, New York, and Maryland.

Range is a challenge for all makers of electric vehicles. The Equinox Fuel Cell will typically deliver a range of 160 miles between hydrogen fueling, but only by using higher pressure 700 bar. This range estimate from GM is more conservative than earlier 200 mile announcements. In California, only the Irvine station currently offers the higher 700 bar pressure as well as 350 bar. All other stations offer only 350 bar. The Equinox Fuel Cell only has a range of about 80 miles when fueled at 350 bar. Another challenge is that a number of hydrogen stations are dedicated to one fleet and are not available to the public.

Over the next few years, range will greatly improve from drivers of fuel cell vehicles. Today, fuel cell buses with ten times the weight of the Equinox have ranges greater than 300 miles. With more hydrogen storage, more range is achieved. Toyota has demonstrated a range of 350 miles by using extra 700 bar storage. GM has demonstrated a range of 300 miles by using 8 kg of storage. Honda will achieve a 270 mile range with the new FCX Clarity using the lower pressure 350 bar. The Honda is a lighter four-passenger vehicle designed from the ground-up to be an electric fuel cell vehicle.

The Equinox Fuel Cell uses 35 kW of NiMH batteries in a mild-hybrid configuration. In other vehicles, such as the Volt, GM is testing new lithium batteries. In its next generation fuel cell vehicle, GM could achieve a range exceeding 300 miles by reducing vehicle weight, having a more battery-dominate full-hybrid design such as E-Flex, using its fifth generation fuel cell, and by switching to lithium batteries.

To accelerate the presence of higher pressure stations with public access, GM is spending millions to establish nine temporary 700 bar stations from Burbank to San Diego. At least three of the portable fueling stations will be provided by Quantum (QTWW). Hydrogen will be made by large-scale reformation of natural gas that is truck delivered.

A number of existing California hydrogen stations use zero-emission hydrogen production by using electrolysis powered by renewable energy, such as solar. Others, such as AC Transit and USMC Camp Pendleton, make hydrogen with on-site electrolysis of pipelined natural gas. AC Transit’s approach produces about 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions of diesel alternatives by using solar power in the reformation and compression of hydrogen. Next year, pipelined byproduct hydrogen will be available at a Torrance station for less than the cost of gasoline. GM and other stations in development will increase California’s hydrogen infrastructure from 25 to 40 stations. In California, the number of hydrogen vehicles from all makers on the road is likely to double from over 150 today to over 300 in 2008, with GM leading the way.

Copyright © 2007-2008 John Addison. This article may be reproduced if it includes this copyright notice. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

California Hydrogen Highway Spans 800 Miles

The California Hydrogen Highway Network now extends from Chula Vista, near the Mexican border, to Arcata, near the Oregon border. You are invited to a virtual tour of 800 miles as we visit some of the more interesting stations.

The City of Chula Vista pioneered its hydrogen station almost four years ago. Currently it has one shared fleet fuel cell vehicle, the Honda FCX. Chula Vista has taken the Honda to Torrance and back without refueling, demonstrating the vehicle’s 190 mile range. The new Honda FCX will have a range exceeding 300 miles. ISE Corporation has also paid for a number of H2 fill-ups in Chula Vista. In nearby Poway, ISE builds hydrogen and hybrid bus and heavy vehicle drive systems.

Driving up the coast, we pass two stations in progress. One will use direct solar electrolysis to make hydrogen, the other station is still a secret. We next arrive in Oceanside, home of the United States Marine Corp’s Camp Pendleton. This Marine operation has taken a leading role in making the nation more energy independent. Camp Pendleton has hundreds of electric vehicles, uses one million gallons of biodiesel annually, and has a hydrogen station just outside the USMC guarded perimeter so that public access is available. The USMC has tested a GM hydrogen truck and GM Equinox fuel cell vehicle. In a few months, vehicle use will expand when Camp Pendleton brings online its onsite reformation of natural gas and adds more hydrogen vehicles.

Irvine has the state’s sole public station offering 350 and 700 bar pressure. Although Honda is achieving 300 mile range with 350 bar, other auto makers such as GM need 700 bar to eventually exceed a 300 mile range. The Irvine station is at the convenient major intersection of Campus and Jamboree. It provides limited public access. The station is used by the University’s Toyota FCHV hydrogen vehicles. These Toyota’s have also been successfully used by local corporations and an individual in a special lease program. The U.S. Postal Service also uses this station for its hydrogen fuel-cell van.

Diamond Bar is home to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). AQMD is committed to improve the health and air quality of the millions who live in Southern California. For years, AQMD has pioneered and helped fund alt-fuel vehicles, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen vehicles. It facilitated the purchase of 30 Toyota Priuses modified to run on hydrogen, thereby bringing the cost of a hydrogen vehicle to less than $80,000. AQMD’s public station produces hydrogen with a mix of grid and solar electrolysis. The station is actively used by AQMD’s hydrogen DaimlerChrysler, Honda, and Quantum Prius vehicles. UPS also uses the station for a hydrogen delivery vehicle. The station has been popular with other fleets when traveling north or south.

Torrance is home to several hydrogen stations. The U.S. headquarters of Toyota and Honda both have stations and both use solar electrolysis. A new public station is coming online that is likely to sell hydrogen for less than equivalent gasoline prices by tapping into the existing hydrogen pipeline that runs from Carson to Torrance.

Los Angeles is home to a growing number of hydrogen stations. L.A. is the number one target market among auto makers, hydrogen fuel providers and the DOE for expanded use of hydrogen in transportation. The most interesting station is probably the BP public access station at LAX. Drive-up with a credit card and fill-up just like any other station. Currently the station is mainly used to fuel the fleet of five Mercedes F-Cell vehicles that are part of the LA Airport fleet. The airport is considering converting other vehicles to use hydrogen.

In downtown Los Angeles, hydrogen blending is being added to Trillium’s CNG station. The nation’s largest natural gas bus fleet, LAMTA, will experiment with a bus running on a blend of 30% hydrogen and 70% CNG.

Although traveling Southern California provides enough stations to keep even limited range hydrogen vehicles refilled, getting to Northern California is a problem. Currently hydrogen vehicles are successful only in local fleets. Individuals continue to buy gasoline vehicles for convenient and fast refills.

As we leave Southern California, we say goodbye to a number of other clean fleet operators who are piloting hydrogen and other electric propulsion vehicles. These operators include Sunline Transit, SCE, and a number of leading cities such as Santa Ana, Riverside, Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

In Northern California, VTA in San Jose carries hundreds of daily riders on its three hydrogen fuel cell buses. In Oakland and Berkeley, AC Transit carries over 1,000 riders daily on its three hydrogen buses that are plug-in hydrogen hybrids with an added 90kW of batteries per bus. AC Transit supervisors’ fleet of Kia and Hyundai vehicles is growing to ten vehicles. By 2009, twelve hydrogen buses will be carrying thousands of daily Bay Area passengers.. Other hydrogen stations are coming online in San Carlos, San Francisco and Emeryville.

Next stop is West Sacramento, home of the California Fuel Cell Partnership where the latest exciting vehicles are constantly being driven. The State of California often fuels its fleet of hydrogen vehicles at this station, or at nearby U.C. Davis. Large public utility, SMUD, is building a new station with 80kW of solar PV for solar electrolysis to produce hydrogen from water. SMUD currently uses seven hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

From here we can head north into magnificent mountains, redwood forests, then dramatic cliffs over the ocean as we head towards Oregon. Before reaching the next state, we arrive at California’s northern most hydrogen station at the Schatz Research Center at Humboldt State University. Station funding was the result of an student team’s national award-winning proposal for of an energy park. Longer term, nearby Diversified Energy and Evergreen Pulp are seeking funding for developing biomass energy with hydrogen as a byproduct..

In Canada, Vancouver continues to expand its own hydrogen highway in anticipation of the 2010 Winter Olympics. 20 hydrogen fuel cell buses plus more HCNG buses are budgeted for the Olympics. In a green approach, 200 kg/hour of waste hydrogen is being captured for fuel.

We will see if Portland and Seattle develop hydrogen stations that would extend a West Coast hydrogen highway over 2,000 miles in length to Whistler, Canada.

Hydrogen transportation continues to grow in California for several reasons including falling vehicle costs, falling fuel price costs, state law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, regulations targeted to reduce billions of dollars of health damage due to criteria pollutants, and state law to reduce petroleum dependence. California leads the nation in use of solar power, wind power and hydrogen transportation.

Skeptics have valid reasons to doubt hydrogen’s long-term success. The idea of a hydrogen highway was over hyped. A number of stations have hydrogen brought in on diesel trucks from remote reformation of natural gas to hydrogen. This approach offers no source-to-wheels greenhouse gas advantages over gasoline.

Many of the leading hydrogen stations are achieving major source-to-wheels advantages with renewable electrolysis, onsite reformation of natural gas, and use of byproduct and waste hydrogen. Hydrogen fuel cells also extend the range and “recharging speed” of electric vehicles without adding internal combustion engines and the use of petroleum. Hydrogen may be displacing 100 million gallons of gasoline and reducing 500,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions in California by 2020.