By 2010, competitively priced cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells should be available from General Motors. But much testing remains to prove the reliability and durability of fuel cells in automobile applications. GM has found an ideal test bed at Dow Chemical Co. in Freeport, Texas, where hydrogen is a major byproduct of operation.
Dow and GM have signed a seven-year agreement to test the fuel cells in prolonged operation. The agreement calls for the use of a single mobile 75-kW cell in Phase 1, which will use Dow's plentiful source of hydrogen while delivering electricity back to the plant. Phase two, in late July, will combine as many as two dozen 75-kW modules to produce up to 2 MW of electricity. Phase three in 2005 will combine up to 400 units to produce up to 35 MW of power. While 35 MW will power up to 25,000 homes, the same 35 MW will power about 2% of the total of Dow's energy-hungry operations.
Experience gained by this research will help GM improve fuel-cell efficiency, reliability, and durability. The company also will learn how to reduce costs while producing key components and accelerating infrastructure development. Once tested in the automotive application, the cells will be put into stationary mode and thoroughly tested. GM researchers expect the fuel cells in the stationary application to perform as well as or better than they did in the automotive application, barring some unforeseen problem.