Tonawanda News


April 17, 2009

BUSINESS: GM drives into future with hydrogen car display

TOWN OF TONAWANDA — On a day when General Motors announced there’s a good chance the company will enter bankruptcy, a more positive display of GM’s plan for the future was taking place at the town’s Powertrain plant.

A fuel cell-powered Chevrolet Equinox was the main attraction. The new vehicle derives its power from hydrogen, combined with oxygen from the air to power an electric motor. No gasoline is required. Plant Manager Steve Finch said given all of the bad news coming out of the company lately, he was happy to be able to announce some good news and shed some light on the progress the company is making in green technology.

“I think there’s a lot of curiosity for how we’re going to survive for the future,” Finch said.

Fuel cell cars factor heavily into those plans, as do other electric vehicles, hybrids and flex-fuel cars that can run on ethanol. But Daniel O’Connell, GM’s director of fuel cell commercialization, said the only the fuel cell project, run out of Honeoye Falls, N.Y., presents an alternative with 0 greenhouse emissions.

“It offers the ultimate solution to take the automobile out of the environmental debate altogether,” O’Connell said.

That doesn’t mean there’s no cost to the environment. Producing the hydrogen requires some carbon emission, but O’Connell said even when estimates of getting that hydrogen from “wells to wheels” are taken into account, fuel cell cars would reduce greenhouse emissions by 85 to 90 percent. He added that figures show the United States already produces enough hydrogen to run 130 million fuel cell cars each year, and that more than half of that hydrogen is used during the gasoline production process. If that gasoline is no longer needed, the hydrogen would be available to fuel cars and other machines.

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