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 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.

PG&E’s Has Largest Natural Gas Fleet in United States

PG&E’s Has Largest Natural Gas Fleet in United States

By John Addison (8/15/07)

Years ago, you only had one choice for your telephone service – AT&T. Now you have a variety of choices from landline, wireless, cable, and Internet providers. Years ago, gasoline was your only fuel choice. Now you have a number of fuel and electric choices. In the future, your favorite provider may be your electric and gas utility.

PG&E – Pacific Gas and Electric – (NYSE: PCG) provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase its services as we continue the shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion and alternate fuels.

When I met with a number of PG&E managers, Sven Thesen traveled from his Palo Alto home via bicycle and train, leaving his personal plug-in hybrid at home. Another traveled from his Alameda home via bicycle and ferry. Others used low-emission CNG and hybrid vehicles. The people managing PG&E’s clean transportation programs practice what they preach.

This article looks how PG&E runs a clean fleet, new programs for customers, and the exciting future potential of vehicle-to-grid (V2G).

Largest CNG Fleet in USA

PG&E Eaton Hybrid utility truckAs part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of hybrid-electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,300 natural gas vehicles — the largest of its kind in the United States. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. PG&E also has the largest fleet of Honda (HMC) Civic GX CNG cars.

Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced more than 3.4 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Most of PG&E’s fleet runs on diesel or gasoline. CNG vehicles are simply not available for all of the fleet’s diverse applications. Heavy vehicles require either liquid natural gas (LNG) or diesel to meet extended power and range demands. Most heavy vehicles, including PG&E’s, run on diesel.

For any utility, Class 6/7 service trucks often need to idle their large diesel engines for hours in order to run heavy lifts and other equipment. As new lines are installed, customers complain of the vehicle noise keeping them awake at night. The maintenance crew is often forced to stop and start the engine so that they can shout between the ground person and the one in the air. The hybrid truck is especially valuable in neighborhoods with noise restriction laws.

Last week, I reviewed PG&E’s new hybrid service truck which already had over 6,000 miles of operation. Efrain Ornelas demonstrated the heavy lift and other accessories operating electrically with the engine off. In service, the vehicle is reducing diesel fuel use 55% because of regenerative braking on road and engine-off electric operation during stationary work. The vehicle even included both 110 and 208V outlets for power tools.

At $3.00 per gallon for fuel, the potential savings ranges from $4,500 to $5,500 a year per vehicle. Each hybrid truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions an estimated two tons per year.

In addition to the dramatic diesel fuel savings, PG&E further reduces petroleum use and emissions by using B20 biodiesel. PG&E is increasing using B20 biodiesel with its entire diesel fleet.

“Hybrid-electric trucks are promising because of their potential to significantly reduce the use of petroleum-based fuel and help keep California’s air clean,” said Jill Egbert, manager, clean air transportation, PG&E. “We hope our involvement will lead to the accelerated development and mainstream acceptance of hybrids in our industry.”

PG&E is one of 14 utilities in the nation participating in the pilot truck program, sponsored by WestStart’s Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), a hybrid commercialization project bringing together truck fleet users, truck makers, technology companies, and the U.S. military, to field-test utility trucks with an integrated hybrid power-train solution.

This new Class 6/7 hybrid truck is built by International incorporating the Eaton (ETN) hybrid drive system with a 44kW electric motor. Eaton has produced more than 220 drive systems for medium and heavy hybrid-powered vehicles. Vehicle configurations include package delivery vans, medium-duty delivery trucks, beverage haulers, city buses and utility repair trucks – each of which has generated significant fuel economy gains and emission reductions.

Fleet customers for Eaton hybrid power have included FedEx Express, UPS, Coca-Cola Enterprises, The Pepsi Bottling Group, and the 14 public utility fleets into which were placed 24 hybrid-powered repair trucks.

Eaton employs a parallel hybrid diesel-electric with Eaton’s Fuller® UltraShift® automated transmission. It incorporates an electric motor/generator between the output of an automated clutch and input of the transmission. The system recovers energy normally lost during braking and stores the energy in batteries. When electric torque is blended with engine torque, the stored energy is used to improve fuel economy and vehicle performance for a given speed or used to operate the vehicle with electric power only.

“The early results are very promising,” said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president, WestStart. “While testing these trucks on a larger scale and over a longer period of time in this pilot program is a critical next step, we’re confident these vehicles are commercially viable and will deliver real value to customers.”

PG&E sees a similar opportunity to save with its Class 5 trouble trucks. For this truck, PG&E partnered with the Electric Power Research Institute and other utilities to conduct a plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road.

Cleaner Electricity

Some people are concerned that a shift to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will not reduce global warming. These people point to coal power plants producing electricity that goes into the vehicles. Because electric drive systems are typically 300% more efficient than gasoline engines, major emission reductions are achieved even from coal generated electricity.

PG&E provides much greater benefit, because it is eliminating coal power from its power mix. As a customer, my latest PG&E bill showed a reduction of coal from 38 to 2% of the power mix. In 2007, energy from RPS-eligible renewables is increasing to 12% of the delivered power mix, from 5% in 2005. Natural gas is 43%, nuclear 23%, and large hydroelectric is 17%.

By 2010, 20% of PG&E delivered electricity will be from clean renewable energy. A big part of the increase will be 553 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) from a new Solel project. When fully operational in 2011, the Mojave Solar Park plant will cover up to 6,000 acres, or nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. The project will rely on 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to capture the desert sun’s heat. It will be the largest CSP project in the world. Solel utilizes parabolic mirrors to concentrate solar energy ontosolar thermal receivers. The receivers contain a fluid that is heated and circulated, and the heat is released to generate steam. The steam powers a turbine to produce electricity.

PG&E is also expanding its use of wind, geothermal, large solar PV, and biomass energy.

Natural Gas and Hydrogen Stations

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, for its own fleet and more than 200 commercial and private fleets. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets. PG&E Clean Air Transportation Program

In addition, construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is scheduled to begin. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas. The hydrogen fueling station will be co-located with a publicly accessible compressed natural gas station to allow for 24/7 availability. Once sufficient demand is established, the MHU can be replaced with permanent facilities, and the unit can then be relocated to expand the network.

PG&E makes daily use of three Mercedes hydrogen fuel cell (F-Cell) vehicles. A variety of PG&E employees drive the vehicles including, fleet mechanics, inspectors, service planning representatives, project managers and officers.

Sven Thesen at PG&E demonstrated spinning the meter backwards with their plug-in hybrid Prius with V2G.Vehicle-to-Grid

A compelling idea for the future is to charge electric vehicles at night when electricity is cheap, and then buy the electricity from vehicles during peak hours. Some electric vehicles store enough electricity to power 50 homes. Sven Thesen at PG&E demonstrated spinning the meter backwards with their plug-in hybrid Prius with V2G. The Prius included a 9kWh plug-in kit from EnergyCS using Li-Ion batteries. A Sonny Boy power inverter, common in solar power installations, was used.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

With smart grid technology, customers could simply plug-in their vehicles to 110 volt outlets. At idle low-cost hours the vehicle would be timed to recharge. At peak hours, customers could agree to let the utility buy electricity at premium rates. In the future, expensive and polluting stand-by peaking generators could be eliminated with smart grid technology and V2G.

Leading the way to clean electricity and cleaner transportation are corporations like PG&E. In their own fleet they are proving that alt-fuels and electric drive systems can save money and emissions. As the technologies are proven, PG&E gives customers new ways to secure clean fuels and electric power.