Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Latest Chevy Volt will be fueled by hydrogen

Friday, April 20, 2007
The sequel
Latest Chevy Volt will be fueled by hydrogen
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

Although General Motors Corp.'s much anticipated plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt is still years away, the automaker is already planning a sequel -- a hydrogen-powered version.

At the Shanghai Auto Show today, GM will announce plans to produce a hydrogen-fueled version of the Volt concept vehicle introduced in January at the Detroit auto show. Like the original Volt, it would be a plug-in powered by a lithium ion battery, but the battery would be mated with a hydrogen fuel cell system rather than a small gasoline engine.

The Volt is GM's first application of E-Flex, which matches battery power with several different energy sources.

"The beauty of the strategy is that it allows us to package various propulsion systems into the same space depending on what energy is available locally," said Larry Burns, GM's vice president of Research and Development and Strategic Planning.

Plug-in hybrids are gasoline-electric vehicles that can recharge batteries with an extension cord and a wall outlet. The Volt can be fully recharged by plugging it into a 110-volt outlet for six hours.

The hydrogen variant of the Volt would be GM's fifth hydrogen-powered drivetrain, versions of which exist now in vehicles such as the GM Sequel, a hydrogen fuel-cell powered concept that was introduced in Detroit in 2005.

The plug-in hydrogen Volt would have a 300-mile range with combined battery and hydrogen power. No petroleum products would be consumed and the vehicle would be emissions-free.

That's because the power for fuel-cell vehicles is produced when oxygen in the air combines with hydrogen in a fuel tank. GM has said it ultimately sees hydrogen fuel cells as the likely solution to curbing the nation's reliance on imported oil.

The E-Flex system is GM's way of dealing with the uncertainty surrounding the future of alternative energies in the auto industry.

E-Flex's roots go back several years and are a result of conflicting schools of thought within GM -- those who felt fuel cells were the future and those who wanted to develop the internal combustion engine further, said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

"There was an internal discussion over which fueling system would emerge as the dominant system," Cole said. "This system has that flexibility. It makes a great deal of sense."

Before either version of the Volt can be built, significant improvements are required in battery technology. GM has said a mass-market plug-in hybrid requires a battery with a range of at least 40 miles. The range on plug-in cars has typically been no more than 20-30 miles on battery alone.

In an effort to develop the batteries, GM has signed on at least four battery suppliers to help as well as expanding its in-house staff, officials have said.

"There's a tremendous will in the company to do this," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told reporters at the Geneva car show last month when asked about the Volt. Lutz has said he believes there is a 90 percent chance GM will succeed in making the vehicle a reality.

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313) 223-4686 or sterlep@detnews.com.

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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