Larry Burns, General Motors vice president for research and development, exits a Chevrolet S-10 pickup powered by the world's first gasoline reformer.

GM Unveils Gasoline-Fed Fuel Cell Pickup
Onboard fuel processor extracts hydrogen from gasoline
Source: General Motors Press Release
Last Edited: 08-08-01 13:00

General Motors unveiled the world's first gasoline fuel processor for fuel cell propulsion.

The Gen III processor, packaged in a Chevrolet S-10 pickup, reforms "clean" gasoline onboard, extracting a stream of hydrogen to send to the fuel cell stack.

The vehicle was introduced to an automotive management conference here by Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research and development, and planning, to update a promise Burns made a year ago at this same conference that the company would have a working demonstration by early 2002.

"Last year, we told you at this conference we had developed a highly efficient gasoline fuel processor," Burns said. "When combined with our fuel cell stack, the technology has the potential to obtain 40 percent overall energy efficiency, which is about 50 percent better than a conventional internal combustion engine.

Larry Burns, (R) General Motors' vice president for research and development, and Byron McCormick, Director of Global Propulsion, pose for photographers with the world's first gasoline reformer at the University of Michigan Automotive Briefing Seminar.

"Today, we're proud to show you that processor on a Chevrolet S-10 pickup, the world's first gasoline-fed fuel cell electric vehicle. This is possible because we've been able to reduce our processor size by a factor of three without sacrificing efficiency."

Onboard gasoline reforming is significant because all other fuel cells run on either pure hydrogen or hydrogen extracted from methanol, Burns explained.

"But, right now, you can't get hydrogen or methanol at your corner gas station and it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to create such an infrastructure," he said. "Developing gasoline-fed fuel cells makes the technology much more attainable - even within this decade."

GM intends to make gasoline-fed fuel cells an interim strategy until a hydrogen infrastructure is established.

Driving demonstrations will be scheduled for early next year.

The Gen III gasoline processor also offers faster start times than the previous version, with the capability of starting in less than three minutes compared to the previous 15-minute start times. It has a peak efficiency of 80 percent.

"Our Gen III takes gasoline and cracks it into its hydrogen components," said Burns. "To our knowledge, no one else has cracked gasoline in an onboard system."

The truck also features GM's Stack 2000, which generates electricity cleanly and efficiently from the hydrogen and oxygen fed to it. This is the same stack technology GM used to set 11 endurance records for vehicles powered by fuel cells in May. GM's HydroGen1 completed 862 miles in a 24-hour endurance run at the company's desert proving grounds in Mesa, Ariz.

The S-10 fuel cell generates 25 kilowatts, which translates roughly into 33hp. The truck's fuel processor and stack combine to power a battery charger for the vehicle's electric drivetrain.

"Of course there's a long way to go on several fronts. We are, after all, undertaking a historic change in transportation and propulsion technology," Burns said. "However, we're very encouraged by our rapid rate of progress and the exciting benefits of fuel cell vehicles."

The Gen III processor, packaged in a Chevrolet S-10 pickup, reforms "clean" gasoline onboard, extracting a stream of hydrogen to send to the fuel cell stack. The technology has the potential to obtain 40 percent overall energy efficiency, which is about 50 percent better than a conventional internal combustion engine.