GM powers trains, planes and automobiles
Partnerships validate fuel cell, lithium battery technologies Metal Tech News – June 23, 2021
Last updated 6/29/2021 at 4:53pm
Semis, trains, and now planes, General Motors' Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell technology is offering a zero-carbon-emissions alternative to powering the way goods and people are being transported.
Hydrogen fuel cells such as the Hydrotec technology developed by GM are much like batteries that generate their own electricity and heat by splitting hydrogen molecules into electrons and protons – electrons create a flow of electricity, and the protons unite with oxygen and to produce water vapor exhaust and heat.
Traditionally, platinum group metals are used as a catalyst to split the hydrogen molecules. GM, however, reports that the catalysts in its fuel cells only need very small amounts of these expensive precious metals.
Each of the Hydrotec power cubes developed by GM packs 300-plus hydrogen fuel cells, along with thermal and power management systems, into a unit about the size of a household washing machine that is capable of delivering roughly 80 kilowatts of quiet and efficient power to 18-wheelers, ships, locomotives, mining equipment, and power generators.
In January, Navistar Inc. cut a deal with GM for the supply of these hydrogen fuel cell power cubes for the commercial production of its International RH Series fuel cell electric trucks. Each of these semi tractors will be powered by two Hydrotec power cubes.
Roughly the size of the 100-gallon fuel tanks mounted on diesel-powered trucks, Hydrotec cubes are cleverly designed to fit into the fuel storage locations they will be replacing on RH Series and other semis.
GM's vision for hydrogen fuel cell technology goes above and beyond fleets of electric 18-wheelers sporting Hydrotec cubes, both figuratively and literally.
Last week, the Detroit automaker signed an agreement with Wabtec Corp. to advance the companies' shared vision of Wabtec electric locomotives powered by GM's Hydrotec and Ultium battery technologies.
"The rail industry is on the cusp of a sustainable transformation with the introduction of batteries and hydrogen to power locomotive fleets," said Wabtec President and CEO Rafael Santana. "Our FLXdrive locomotive, the world's first 100% battery-powered locomotive, has proven its potential to slash carbon emissions by up to 30% when operating at 6 MWh (megawatt-hours). But we can't stop there. By working with GM on Ultium battery and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell technologies, we can accelerate the rail industry's path to decarbonization and pathway to zero-emission locomotives by leveraging these two important propulsion technologies."
In addition to further commercializing both its hydrogen fuel cell and lithium battery technologies, the collaboration with Wabtec offers GM and other users of North American railroads the opportunity to lower the carbon footprint of receiving raw materials and parts, and then delivering finished products to customers.
"Rail networks are critical to transportation and to GM's ability to serve our customers across North America, and Wabtec's bold plan to de-carbonize heavy haul and other locomotive applications helps advance our vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion," said GM President Mark Reuss. "Wabtec's decision to deploy GM's Ultium battery and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell systems further validates our advanced technology and demonstrates its versatility."
GM is seeking to further demonstrate the versatility of its zero-carbon technologies by joining forces with Liebherr-Aerospace, one of the world's leading suppliers of integrated onboard aircraft systems, to show how hydrogen fuel cell power systems based on Hydrotec power cubes could be used in aircraft application.
"Aircraft are a great litmus test for the strength and versatility of our HYDROTEC fuel cells," said Charlie Freese, GM executive director of Global Hydrotec. "Our technology can address customer needs in a wide range of uses – on land, sea, air or rail, and this collaboration with Liebherr could open up new possibilities for aircraft, transitioning to alternative energy power sources."
The construction and testing of an aerospace demonstrator that incorporates GM's HYDROTEC power cube, fuel cell system, and controls will take place in a specialized laboratory at a Liebherr-Aerospace facility in France.
This integrated aircraft system concept benefits from Liebherr's decades of investment in onboard thermal management and onboard power management.
"The change from the conventional to a hydrogen technology-based electrical power generation system means major systems modifications on board the aircraft that could result in better, more efficient performance of the plane," said Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation SAS Chief Technology Officer Francis Carla. "The advantage of GM's Hydrotec fuel cell technology is that it has shown promise in extensive automotive and military programs, where it has shown to be reliable from the engineering and manufacturing perspectives."