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GM Opens Rochester Area Fuel Cell Facility

By Eileen Buckley

Rochester, NY – General Motors is another step closer to producing environmentally-friendly "fuel cell" vehicles. The auto maker has opened a fuel cell research center outside of Rochester to develop the technology.

GM says by 2010 consumers will be able to purchase fuel cell cars. The use of fuel cells, powered by hydrogen, will be part of extensive research by the automaker. GM staff engineer Dan O'Connell says hydrogen would combine with oxygen to produce electricity to power the vehicles. But one of the challenges is to provide a safe source of hydrogen for consumers.

The U.S. Energy Department says heat combustion of hydrogen is "two to three times higher than other fuels." O'Connell says hydrogen would not be ready for purchase at local gas station when the GM cars initially hit the market. So, he says, gasoline would still be used.

"General Motors has a bridging strategy that would allow us to use gasoline in the short term before the hydrogen infrastructure is in place," O'Connell said. "Until you can purchase hydrogen at your local filling station, you would use gasoline. The gasoline would be converted into hydrogen to use in the fuel cell."

Energy produced by hydrogen is clean. O'Connell says the fuel cell cars would be environmentally friendly and "significantly reduce" auto emissions. He says fuel cell vehicles would also be cost effective for the consumer.

"We believe the vehicle will be on par with the eternal combustion engine when it hits the showroom in terms of cost to the consumer," O'Connell said. "In terms of fuel efficiency, the consume would fill up the fuel cell vehicle less often."

GM says it wants to be the first company to sell one-million fuel cell vehicles. But it appears the race is on by other automakers to produce fuel-cell cars. Honda says it will present its version by next year. Daimler Chrysler plans to market the cars by 2004 and Ford says it will begin "limited production" also by 2004.