Long-term efforts by General Motors to make hydrogen fuel cells a commercial success are starting to finally take shape as the company is investing $35 billion in electric and autonomous vehicles through 2025 as a way to grow its operations outside of automotive, NBC News reported on Monday.
GM insists there are major opportunities for fuel cells in the military, commercial vehicles, and other types of transportation, with the company exploring those areas as a complementary solution to its emerging Ultium battery-electric vehicle business.
"Batteries have a role to fill, but to fully electrify and deal with the breadth of the different applications that we’re talking about, you also have to have hydrogen fuel cells," said Charlie Freese, who head GM’s global fuel cell business. "They complement each other extremely well."
Freese explained that batteries are best utilized to replace vehicles and equipment that run on gasoline, while fuel cells are better for longer ranges and vehicles that use diesel fuel.
"Every market is going to be a little bit different, but what is clear is the world’s moving toward electrification," he said. "The fuel cell technology has moved down the cost curve dramatically, and it continues to do that."
GM announced last week that it intends to launch its third-generation Hydrotec fuel cells with even greater power density and lower costs by mid-decade by the middle of the decade, NBC News reported.
As part of its attempts to search outside of automative to help drive demand, GM announced last week an agreement with Liebherr-Aerospace to develop a hydrogen fuel-cell power generation demonstrator system for aircrafts.
The fuel cell technology would serve as a replacement for the auxiliary power unit that sits in the tail of the aircraft and generates electrical and air power when the plane is on the ground or during an in-flight emergency, according to Forbes.
A few days earlier the company also announced that it signed a memorandum of understanding with Wabtec Corp. to engineer and supply battery and hydrogen fuel-cell systems for freight locomotives.
These deals, and others, are in addition to previous agreements with the U.S. military involving hydrogen fuel cells, including an underwater unmanned vessel, NBC News reported.
"We use kind of a land, sea and air approach," Freese said. "It’s energy storage density for long missions, quick refueling and quiet stealth, low thermal initiatives. Those are things that are very important in those applications. And those carry over to some of the other [industries]."
Freese added that GM expects to commercialize fuel cells for real world solutions "soon," although he refused to detail those plans.
Although many experts say that hydrogen can help decarbonize industries where batteries are insufficient due to their lower energy density and higher weight, the technology is still expected to be secondary to BEVs, which are cheaper and easier for consumers and companies to understand.
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