The Return of Hydrogen

Gary S. Vasilash

When you get right down to it, when people talk about “alternative powertrains,” chances are they’re talking about hybrids and/or full electric vehicles.

Some OEMs are still talking about fuel cells, but that talk is really on the level of whispers. Sure, that may be the future, but in the meantime, as in now, moving hybrids and EVs seems to be the name of the game.

2004 GM Hy-Wire The Hy-Wire chassis.  This is the 11-inch “skateboard” architecture, where the fuel cell tanks and propulsion system are housed.

In pre-Volt days, General Motors was quite a dynamo when it came to fuel cell developments. If we look back just to the beginning of this century, it revealed the HydroGen 1 in 2001, the AUTOnomy in 2002, the Hy-Wire in 2003, the Sequel in 2005, and the Equinox Fuel Cell in 2007.

Then things pretty much ended. The Volt appeared in 2010.

Earlier this year, GM and Honda announced they’d be collaborating on fuel cell research. And more recently, GM and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) indicated that they’d work together on the testing and evaluating of fuel cell materials and designs. Realize that the Army and other armed services have to ship tons of petroleum-based fuels to operations bases, even if they’re in locales where there are millions of gallons of the stuff under the ground, and so lighter alternatives are being actively sought.

In the near-term, hybrids and EVs will continue to garner most of the attention. But don’t underestimate the importance of fuel cell technology because in the not-too-distant future, its viability is likely to be a sure(r) thing.