GM and Honda ally to drive fuel cells into the mainstream

GM and Honda ally to drive fuel cells into the mainstream

Honda FCX Clarity image by Lykovata via Shutterstock.com.

GM and Honda have agreed to work together on a concerted push to bring affordable hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles to market before the end of the decade.

The two companies, which together boast 1,200 fuel cell-related patents, yesterday signed a "definitive master agreement" to co-develop fuel cell systems and hydrogen storage technologies.

By exchanging expertise, economies of scale and combining sourcing strategies for parts and materials, they intend to make fuel cell vehicles more affordable.

"We are convinced this is the best way to develop this important technology, which has the potential to help reduce the dependence on petroleum and establish sustainable mobility," said Dan Akerson, GM chairman and chief executive.

Fuel cell vehicles generate power from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen stored in the fuel stack and emit only water vapor. But the need to store hydrogen in specialist carbon fiber tanks and use platinum as a catalyst means costs for the technology have remained high.

However, cost concerns have not stopped several leading automotive firms investing heavily in developing the technology.

Honda has already delivered 85 of its FCX Fuel Cell vehicles and its successor, the FCX Clarity, which was named World Green Car in 2009. It plans to launch a follow-up in the U.S. and Japan in 2015, with a European roll-out expected soon after. Meanwhile, GM's Project Driveway program has accumulated nearly 3 million miles of real-world driving in a fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered vehicles since 2007.

Honda FCX Clarity image by Lykovata via Shutterstock.com.

Media reports suggest Toyota is also set to release a fuel cell sedan in 2015, which might be debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in November, while Hyundai intends to produce 1,000 of its ix35 fuel cell powered SUV by the same date.

However, to date the technology has primarily been used for delivery or warehouse vehicles, and extensive hydrogen refueling infrastructure would be required if the technology is to extend beyond industrial applications and enter the mainstream auto market.

GM and Honda's partnership will attempt to encourage governments and industry to press ahead with this infrastructure and, if they can crack the cost problem, driving up to 400 miles with zero tail-pipe emissions while reducing countries' dependencies on foreign petroleum imports could become a reality.

"Among all zero CO2 emission technologies, fuel cell electric vehicles have a definitive advantage with range and refueling time that is as good as conventional gasoline cars," said Takanobu Ito, president and chief executive of Honda Motor Co. Ltd.

"Honda and GM are eager to accelerate the market penetration of this ultimate clean mobility technology, and I am excited to form this collaboration to fuse our leading fuel cell technologies and create an advanced system that will be both more capable and more affordable."

The partnership is the most recent in a series of industrial alliances to share the cost of developing fuel cell vehicles, following Toyota's collaboration with BMW, Intelligent Energy's joint venture with Suzuki, and an earlier agreement between Daimler, Ford and Nissan.

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen.com.