Holden is claiming an Australian automotive first for its joint research programme with CSIRO to explore future global powertrain technologies.

The programme will contribute to parent company General Motors' goal to design and develop hybrid and hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles.

"This collaboration between Holden and CSIRO, with its undoubted world-class research capabilities, sees Australia's leading R&D investors in the public and private sectors playing their part in the global road to hydrogen," the automaker's chairman and managing director Denny Mooney said.

"This programme will focus on technology which could have wide-ranging future applications in hybrid and fuel cell systems. Australia is in the region which will experience more than half the world's growth in car use in the next decade - the Asia Pacific. General Motors is harnessing its broad powertrain expertise and economies of scale as the world's largest automotive company to make a definitive difference, to move towards the day when cars are largely removed from the environmental debate."

The firm claims to be Australia's biggest private research and development spender, investing more than $A540 million in the past two years, while Holden Innovation, which will drive the new project, is also Australia's only stand-alone automotive R&D centre.

Holden and CSIRO began collaborative research into alternative propulsion systems with the ECOmmodore hybrid electric vehicle project in 2000. It has provided the platform for continuing research into the supercapacitor and battery technologies which could play an important role in the development of hydrogen fuel cell and hybrid applications.

The car maker's chief engineer, Laurie Sparke, said the project's research activity would be focused on power management systems and energy storage technologies.

"Electric propulsion will be the basis of practically all vehicle powertrains in the long term. These electric drives, regardless of the origin of the power source, will require electrical energy storage devices such as supercapacitors, batteries, or a combination of both. Supercapacitors are our particular interest. They're capable of providing a rapid surge of power and allow the super-fast collection, storage and discharge of the electrical energy necessary for automotive applications. They're lightweight and suited to capturing or providing the high currents associated with regenerative braking and full throttle acceleration.

"Using supercapacitors, our engineers can minimise electric loads which can drastically reduce battery life and allow better management of the 'rapid change of state' events associated with day-to-day driving. The beauty of our supercapacitor power management and storage systems is that they have the flexibility to be used in different applications under different programmes, no matter what the hybrid or fuel cell powertrain needs.

Acknowledging that Australia remains a small player in the global automotive industry, Sparke said Holden thinks it can make a worthwhile local contribution to General Motors' goals.

The company believes the long-term answer to the question of sustainable mobility lies in hydrogen-powered fuel cells from renewable resources.

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