General Motors Corporation (GM) recently showcased two examples of hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology and announced that Saturns will be the first GM automobiles to host its newly developed hybrid system.

The company participated in the California Fuel Cell Partnership’s (CaFCP’s) “Road Rally 2005: Fueling the Future” on September 29-October 1 in several Sacramento and San Francisco area locations. CaFCP, a voluntary, industry-government collaboration, sponsored the event that highlighted hydrogen fuel cell technologies and featured a total of 20 cars from GM, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen. Other exhibits included a hydrogen reformer, a mobile hydrogen refueler, an educational display to teach the general public about hydrogen production, and vehicle test-drive opportunities.

GM, teamed with the U.S. Army, presented two of its vehicles in an effort to demonstrate the potential of hydrogen power for consumer and military nontactical use.

Fuel Cell ATV

The U.S. Army and Quantum Technologies are currently testing this fuel cell-powered all-terrain vehicle. NAFTC Photo

The modified Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck has two 94-kilowatt (kW) hydrogen-fueled fuel cell stacks and can generate 188 kW and 317 foot-pounds of torque (equivalent to the torque of GM’s 5.3 liter V-8 engine). The U.S. Army evaluated the truck at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and it will make its way to the U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, for further study.

The HydroGen3 also was featured at CaFCP’s Road Rally. GM developed this minivan with a vision of providing a traditional driving experience in a vehicle that emits only pure water vapor. The HydroGen3 has appeared in other venues with the support of an award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Partnering with DOE, by 2009, GM will add forty fuel cell vehicles to its demonstration fleets in California; Washington, D.C.; New York; and Michigan.

GM produces more than half of the U.S. military’s nontactical vehicles purchased every year. According to the U.S. Army’s Tank-Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center, fuel cell vehicles have the potential to support multiple military needs such as increased system efficiency, quality electrical power, and field-generated potable water.

GM’s technological advances are not limited to hydrogen, as the company announced the introduction of a new belt alternator starter (BAS) hybrid system (referred to in other micro hybrid system literature as an ISG [integrated starter/generator]). The new technology will be launched in mid-2006 in the 2007 Saturn VUE Green Line. The micro hybrid version of the VUE is estimated to provide a 12-15 percent improvement in fuel economy.

GM says the BAS system “combines sophisticated controls with a precision electric motor/generator mated to the engine.” Its functions include the engine turning off when the car is stopped, early fuel cutoff during deceleration with torque smoothing, electric power assist, intelligent charging of the advanced hybrid battery, and regenerative braking.

The company states that one of the benefits of the BAS hybrid system is its flexibility because it can be applied to multiple engines with minimal change to the engine or transmission. In the VUE Green Line, the system will be paired with GM’s 2.4-liter variable valve timing Ecotec engine and the Hydra-Matic 4T45-E electronically controlled overdrive transaxle.

According to GM, the BAS hybrid operates in motoring or generating mode. In motoring mode, the BAS hybrid is used to quickly restart the engine upon release of the brake and to provide acceleration assistance as needed. In generating mode, it is used to provide both 12 volt vehicle accessory power and power to recharge the hybrid battery.

The hybrid option is estimated to be a few hundred dollars more than the base price. “Final fuel economy numbers and pricing for the VUE hybrid will be announced next spring after calibrations are finalized,” said Tom Stephens, group vice president of GM Powertrain.

In our July edition of eNews, we focused on hybrid advances in the story “Introducing Hybrid Technologies.” In this article, NAFTC instructor and article writer, Rich Cregar, predicted that on the basis of cost versus benefit, micro hybrids are poised to become a significant part of the hybrid market. This prediction has proven ever so true! The Citroen C3, discussed in the July article, is another micro hybrid vehicle currently being sold in Europe.

ISG Bosch

The GM micro hybrid system will use an integrated starter-generator, similar in appearance to this unit. Photo courtesy of The Robert Bosch Corporation

BAS is one of three hybrid systems GM will introduce on up to twelve of its models in order to give consumers an array of hybrid vehicles varying in fuel savings and price. GM is also developing a compact and scalable two-mode fully hybrid system based on its diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system for transit buses. It will appear in 2007 in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-size sport utility vehicles.

GM describes the two-mode full hybrid as a system that uses an electrically variable transmission with two hybrid modes of operation that optimize power and torque for various driving conditions. The first mode is for low speeds and light loads, and the second mode is primarily for highway use. Estimated fuel efficiency improvement is 25 percent.

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