By ‘land, sea and air,’ GM to expand fuel-cell business beyond EVs

The U.S. Military started off assessing Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 gas mobile electric powered truck in 2017. It is based on GM’s Colorado ZR2 off-street pickup.


Normal Motors’ programs for hydrogen gasoline cells, a lengthy-promised technology, are commencing to consider condition as the business pours $35 billion into electric powered and autonomous vehicles by means of 2025.

GM began functioning on gas cells a lot more than 50 many years with little to no commercial results. But it aims to improve that in coming a long time with its Hydrotec gas-cell process, which could be a darkish horse company to mature GM’s operations exterior of automotive.

GM sees large possibilities for gasoline cells in the military services, professional automobiles and other sorts of transportation, such as rail and maritime. GM is exploring all those places and more as a complementary option to its rising battery-electric powered car company, identified as Ultium.  

“Batteries have a job to fill, but to completely electrify and offer with the breadth of the various applications that we’re conversing about, you also have to have hydrogen fuel cells,” said Charlie Freese, who leads GM’s international gas mobile business. “They enhance each individual other incredibly nicely.”

Hydrogen fuel-cell electric cars and gear operate much like battery-electric powered ones but are run by electric power produced from hydrogen and oxygen rather of pure batteries, with water vapor as the only by-merchandise. They’re filled up with a nozzle almost as immediately as standard fuel and diesel vehicles.

As a general rule of thumb, Freese reported, batteries are most effective utilized to switch automobiles and machines that use gasoline, while fuel cells are improved for more time ranges and autos these as semitrucks that use diesel fuel.

“Every sector is heading to be a very little little bit various, but what is clear is the world’s relocating toward electrification,” he reported. “The gas mobile technological innovation has moved down the expense curve dramatically, and it proceeds to do that.”

GM mentioned very last week it plans to launch its third-technology Hydrotec gasoline cells with even bigger power density and lessen expenditures by mid-decade.

Growing GM

Gasoline-cell vehicles facial area the very same difficulties as BEVs, which include client acceptance, fueling infrastructure and cost. It’s a person of the factors GM is seeking exterior of automotive to help push demand from customers.

GM declared Thursday a deal with Liebherr-Aerospace to develop a hydrogen gasoline-mobile ability generation demonstrator technique for aircrafts. That announcement came two times just after the automaker claimed it signed a memorandum of comprehending with Wabtec Corp. to engineer and provide battery and hydrogen fuel-cell programs for freight locomotives.

Wabtec Corp. claims its FLXdrive is the world’s to start with 100% battery-powered, hefty-haul freight locomotive.


GM also has agreements or partnerships relating to Hydrotec with Navistar and embattled EV start out-up Nikola. The packages are in addition to numerous prior ones amongst GM and the U.S. armed service involving hydrogen gasoline cells, such as a pickup truck and an underwater unmanned vessel.

“We use kind of a land, sea and air tactic,” Freese said. “It’s electrical power storage density for extended missions, brief refueling and tranquil stealth, small thermal initiatives. Those people are matters that are very important in those purposes. And people have more than to some of the other [industries].”

Freese reported GM expects to commercialize gasoline cells for serious globe options “soon,” declining to elaborate on all those plans. GM has a joint undertaking with Honda Motor, which presents a gasoline-mobile car termed the Clarity, to produce and produce gasoline cells at a plant in Michigan.

The most in the vicinity of-expression product or service that GM has declared is with Illinois-based truck maker Navistar. The businesses before this 12 months announced a collaboration on a gas-mobile-run semitruck.

General Motors will offer its Hydrotec fuel cell electrical power cubes to Navistar for use in its output design gasoline mobile electric powered car (FCEV) – the International RHTM Series.


J.B. Hunt Transportation is anticipated to be the very first consumer to pilot the semitrucks and hydrogen fueling technique at the finish of 2022, in accordance to the firms. The initial vehicles are predicted to be out there for sale in 2024.

‘Uncertain’ foreseeable future

A lot of imagine hydrogen can assistance decarbonize industries where batteries tumble brief due to their lower electricity density and larger pounds. But the technological know-how is however envisioned to get a backseat to BEVs, which are more cost-effective and simpler for individuals and corporations to realize.

“Hydrogen’s transportation future appears to be additional uncertain supplied the tug of war with batteries,” BTIG analyst Gregory Lewis explained in a modern observe to buyers. “We anticipate hydrogen to be made use of in niche purposes.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose firm solely delivers BEVs, has termed gasoline cells a “idiot cells” and “head-bogglingly silly.”

But there is a growing industry for the systems amid an boost in legislations globally about decarbonization, officers say. Fortune Business Insights forecasts the worldwide gasoline-cell industry will be $29 billion by 2028.

The important, as GM is concentrating on, may possibly be bringing down the costs for professional consumers, lots of of whom have established routes and on-website fueling, alternatively than individuals.

“Industrial apps like steel, refining, and chemicals wherever green hydrogen can be manufactured and eaten on-site (avoids transportation expenditures) look poised to be early adopters of eco-friendly hydrogen,” Lewis stated. “In addition, hydrogen for industrial use is currently gaining traction in some nations’ zero-emissions policies.”

– CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.