Hooked on fuel cell car

This article is published on ICIS Chemical Business’s From Our Own Correspondent section, July 27, 2009, p.7


After testing out the H-racer fuel cell toy car sent by BASF (see ICB 5/11/09, p.7) I got the chance to test out a real fuel cell vehicle on July 14 courtesy of General Motor’s Chevy Equinox fuel cell demo car powered by Shell’s hydrogen.

Shell, in partnership with GM, opened its second hydrogen refilling station in New York for fuel cell car drivers. There aren’t any fuel cell cars out there yet for sale but some are testing demo cars such as GM’s Chevy Equinox under the company’s Project Driveway program.

GM said there are 30 of the model available for testing in New York and 60 in California. The company has overall 115 for testing across the globe. Since the program’s inception in January 2008, these cars burned 900,000 miles in total all producing just water as emissions.

The car has an estimated rate of 39 miles per kilogram so if we do the math, it can actually go to more than 160 miles (even 200 miles GM said) before it needs to be filled up again with hydrogen.

At first glance, the car didn’t even looked anything like my vision of a greener bat mobile and instead featured a gray SUV/van-type of automobile that any parent with two kids who’d like to have. It did sport a Fuel Cell logo along with trailing green water molecules that look like vines from a distance.

The shiny fuel cell powerhouseis located under the front hood replacing the odd bits and pieces ofgreasy motor innards typical of a petroleum-powered car. On the back ofthe car are four exhaust slots where water mists flow out. GM assured no dripping water here.

I had one of the GM officials to chauffered me around a parking lotso I can check the nuts and bolts inside the car (and to avoid beingsued in case I crash it). GM did not disclose the cost of the car butsaid that they were very expensive to make. The fuel cells werehand-made by the way.

One feature that was very interesting to watch while the car isbeing driven is the energy display monitor near the dash board whichshows power flowing from the fuel cell to the motor and/or battery aswell as charging power returning to the battery during regenerativebraking. It also showed how much petroleum was saved depending on thecar’s total mileage.

The car that I rode already had 9,392 miles on its hood and indicated about 417 gallons of petroleum saved.

I generally don’t like to drive and it has been 10 years since mylast attempt but all in all I was very impressed and was mightilytempted to buy an electric vehicle at that moment – if there’s onealready available and if it’s cheap.

All I ask is to put a nice sounding chime to it when the car startsto avoid a possible crash. It’s so darn quiet that I didn’t evenrealized it was already turned on! Oh, and GM did assured me that thethree hydrogen tanks located underneath are crashed proof.

We don’t want another Hindenburg incident, do we?

2 Responses to Hooked on fuel cell car

  1. Jim Horwitz 28 July, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    Good review – fuel cells are an important watch point for the chemistry community as they represent repacing inefficient indirect combustion to mechanical energy for motive power with chemically produced electric power.

    But you have a gross misconception in your concluding line. The Hindenburg’s outer skin was coated with a rocket fuel type compound to keep tose pesky little hydrogen molecules from escaping. It was the skin that caught fire and sank to the ground in flames while the hydrogen, being extremely volatile, escaped and burned colorlessly as it rose quickly into the stratusphere.

  2. Doris de Guzman 16 April, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Thanks for the clarification Jim. Ordinary consumers (like me) do need to know more information about the potential of hydrogen in transportation (including safety and benefits). I’m glad there are a lot of developments already taking place in this field.

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