View Full Version : Is the Sequel the car of the future?

01-29-2005, 12:17 PM
You can't see it at the auto show, but GM says you can ride in a fuel-cell version by 2010

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

The 2005 concept car generating the most buzz in the auto industry, the hydrogen-powered Sequel from General Motors, is not appearing at the Houston Auto Show.

But in the not-too-distant future, it could have a dramatic effect on the energy capital of the world.

The car, which emits clean water vapor from its exhaust pipe, first appeared at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January and will make several stops at major shows in coming months.

GM won't say where it will appear, but the Houston show didn't make the cut.

Far-out concept cars that seem taken from the pages of comic books are often built to create buzz at auto shows and attract consumers to a brand. Rarely are they mass-produced.

The Sequel could be not only an exception, but a window on an entirely different future.

What sets apart the Sequel is GM's vow to begin producing cars based on its hydrogen-fuel-cell engine and radical design by about 2010.

That's right. In just five short years, GM anticipates the dawn of the hydrogen economy, where America begins its long journey away from oil dependency.

"We feel fuel cells are the future of the automobile business, not just for us but for the entire automobile industry," said Tim Veil, director of business development for GM's fuel-cell activities in Detroit.

Holy grail
What makes the Sequel so special is it can travel 300 miles on a full tank of hydrogen and go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds. Most hydrogen-powered vehicles can only travel half that distance and need about 15 seconds to reach 60 mph.

Those stats put this fuel-cell vehicle on equal footing with most gasoline-powered cars, which is the holy grail for alternative fuels.

The futuristic Sequel, which is similar to an SUV, rests on a "skateboard" chassis that significantly reduces the number of parts. Its "by-wire" technology, used in modern aircraft, converts driver commands for steering or braking into computerized signals for electric motors to do the work.

The technology for fuel cells is a century old. They work like batteries, except they never need to be charged. Instead, they act like small power plants and generate electricity using hydrogen as fuel.

GM has spent more than $1 billion on fuel-cell technology and has 600 workers dedicated to it. Since 2003, the auto giant has been testing large-scale electricity generation with fuel cells at a Dow Chemical Co. plant in Freeport.

Shell Oil Co., which produces 7,000 metric tons of hydrogen daily, believes fuel-cell cars are clearly in sight. Shell has the only hydrogen refueling station in the country, located in Washington, D.C. The company announced Thursday it would build another hydrogen refueling site in New York City with the goal of providing one more somewhere in between to create an East Coast hydrogen corridor.

Jeremy Bentham, CEO of Shell Hydrogen, predicts mass-marketing of hydrogen-powered cars to start in 15 years.

"We can imagine there being 5 million to 10 million fuel-cell vehicles in 2020, 50 million in 2030, 150 million in 2040 and 300 million in 2050," Bentham said. "That's not just a projection, that's what we see as a feasible scenario."

Critics of fuel-cell cars say too many technical barriers exist to mass-produce them and make them affordable.

"It's realistic to have fuel cells in automobiles in five years, no problem at all," said Alex Ignatiev, director of the University of Houston's Texas Center for Superconductivity and Advanced Materials. "The question is, can they be built at a low-enough cost?"

Ignatiev is one of a team of scientists at UH who are working on high-efficiency fuel cells one-hundredth the thickness of a human hair.

Manufacturing expense for this technology is measured by cost per kilowatt produced. Currently, GM can make a hydrogen-powered car for about $500 per kilowatt. To be affordable, that number has to drop to around $50 per kilowatt, said Veil, which he adds GM can and will do.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it's rare to find it not bonded with other substances, such as gasoline, natural gas, coal or water. Hydrogen fuel is produced by separating it from those substances.

Some 50 million metric tons of hydrogen are produced as a byproduct at thousands of refineries and petrochemical plants worldwide. Only a small fraction of the world's hydrogen is produced by the expensive process of splitting water.

Environmentalists say GM is ignoring gasoline-electric hybrids that can immediately reduce oil consumption.

They also argue that producing hydrogen from petrochemicals rather than water will create just as much pollution as the nation's 230 million gasoline-powered cars.

Easily moved
And fuel-cell cars won't go far until a multibillion-dollar infrastructure of refueling stations is built.

Bentham said such an infrastructure construction is not so daunting. He said that because hydrogen is so readily produced and it is commonly made near populated areas, it can easily be moved short distances.

UH's Ignatiev agrees that the auto industry will be the first to see success with fuel cells. But he said GM may be too optimistic about how soon it says it can overcome such obstacles.

"Overcome is the wrong terminology," said Ignatiev. "Can you discover something that will make it work is the question."

link (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/front/3014690)

01-29-2005, 01:20 PM
The problem with hydrogen is that it has to be produced.

Currently the only viable commercial method for producing hydrogen is steam reformation, a process where hydrogen is extracted from natural gas. Obviously, extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels does nothing to ease our dependence on them. What is needed is an efficient method of producing hydrogen from water. Hydrogen can be extracted from water with current technology, but it requires as much, if not more, energy to produce it, as the amount extracted can provide.

GM should be commended for their push for hydrogen fueled cars. If other manufacturers follow suit, the resulting demand for hydrogen will provide an economic impetus for development of new, more efficent, seawater hydrogen extraction technologies.

A hydrogen economy will once and for all. end our dependence on OPEC, end the flow of capital to potentially hostile regimes, and end automobile based air pollution.