5th generation on the right. Photo: ABG
GM's Fifth Generation Hydrogen Fuel Cell
On the left side of the photo above is the fuel cell stack from the hydrogen-powered GM Equinox (93kW of output) and on the right side you can see the new fifth generation GM fuel cell stack (93kW of output also). Even without looking at the technical specifications, it is pretty obvious that the next gen GM fuel cell is an improvement on the previous version, but size and weight is not all there is to it...
5th generation fuel cell stack on the left. Photo: ABG
Incremental Improvements (but Significant)
The biggest improvement is no doubt the lower cost. GM engineers have reduced the amount of expensive platinum used by more than 50%, from about 80 grams in the 4th generation stack to about 30 grams in the 5th. GM's roadmap also aims for a further platinum reduction for the 6th generation, with the goal of bringing the total used under 10 grams per fuel cell stack.
Economies of scale will no doubt help drive the cost per fuel cell stack down too; While the 4th generation had a production volume of about 500 units per year, the 5th generation should reach about 10,000 units per year in 2015.
Real-world testing has also allowed GM to improve the durability of its fuel cells. From about 30,000 miles when they were first introduced to around 80,000 miles after some updates based on this real-world feedback. But that's for the 4th generation. GM expects that the 5th generation will reach about 120,000 miles at introduction in 2015.
It's certainly good to see that hydrogen vehicles are still getting significantly better with each new version (f.ex. Check out the Toyota FCHV-adv with its 431 miles range) and that engineers haven't yet hit a wall, this doesn't exactly solve the bigger problem of how to get a hydrogen infrastructure in place (an expensive and technically complex proposition).
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