General Motors has unveiled what it claims is the world's first petrol fuel processor for fuel cell propulsion.

The Gen III processor, installed in a Chevrolet S-10 pickup, reforms 'clean' petrol onboard to extract a stream of hydrogen to send to the fuel cell stack.

The vehicle was introduced to an automotive management conference in Traverse City, Michigan, by GM's vice president of research, development and planning, Larry Burns, to keep a promise he made at the conference a year ago that the company would have a working demonstrator by early 2002.

"When combined with our fuel cell stack, the technology has the potential to obtain 40% overall energy efficiency, which is about 50% better than a conventional internal combustion engine," Burns said.

"We're proud to show that processor on a Chevrolet S-10 pickup, the world's first petrol-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."

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General Motors

Onboard petrol 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 petrol-fed fuel cells an interim strategy until a hydrogen infrastructure is established.

Driving demonstrations are scheduled for early next year.

The Gen III petrol 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-minutes. It has a peak efficiency of 80%.

"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 from 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.

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."

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The world's car manufacturers: A financial and operating review

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