Fuel cell technology has emerged as the likely successor to internal combustion and fuel cell cars should see significant uptake in the next decade. With this in mind, GM’s backing of a European scheme to test fuel cell infrastructure and support systems could be a shrewd move as it looks to become a leading green car manufacturer.

Vehicle manufacturers and parts companies have been looking for a way to generate electricity efficiently within a vehicle that is both cheap and environmentally friendly. Hence the fuel cell, which generates electricity through combining hydrogen and oxygen with water as the only waste product, has been the subject of intense research in the last decade and is likely to be the eventual successor to the combustion engine.

In recent months, several auto parts companies, including Robert Bosch and Delphi, have suggested that a reasonably high penetration of fuel cells in vehicles will not be seen until at least 2020. However, the latest indications are that such green power vehicles could be around a lot sooner.

With this in mind, the European Commission’s ‘lighthouse’ deployment projects, unveiled last year, are designed to promote fuel cell technology both in Europe and beyond, developing infrastructure and shortening the timeframe between the research phase and commercial implementation.

In the automotive setting, the project is set to see the development of hydrogen refilling stations and stationary fuel cell infrastructure in several European countries. By 2010, the EU expects to see a few hundred fuel cell cars being trialled.

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GM has applauded these developments and has pledged its support as the world’s largest vehicle producer. The company subscribes to the idea that the fuel cell is the logical successor to the internal combustion engine, and is determined to be a leading player in its development.

The company’s endorsement of the European program comes as little surprise in this context. GM realises that its own ambitions to be at the vanguard of fuel cell technology could easily be hamstrung by a lack of infrastructure on the ground to accommodate such vehicles. Indeed, if the world’s other major auto markets follow Europe’s example, GM could reap significant rewards as a major provider of fuel cell cars.

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