Charles Freese, GM’s global head of fuel cell development, sat down with Trucks.com recently to discuss the automaker’s approach — he calls it a land-sea-air technology — and what the future might hold for fuel cells. Here is an edited version of the conversation:
You’ve developed the Chevrolet ZH2 military fuel cell truck, but you don’t have a civilian vehicle. Why?
We haven’t announced a vehicle program yet, but we have announced that we are building the plant to build the propulsion systems that will be used by vehicles from both Honda and GM. The ZH2 program is an opportunity to get synergy from something both we and the military are interested in.
We wanted with the ZH2 to evaluate how the technology performs in a true off-road vehicle, a pickup truck with extreme capabilities, and we’re trying to leverage what fuel cells offer that other technologies are not as well-equipped to offer. We have a big vehicle with 300-400 miles of range, and we can also offer twice the efficiency of an internal combustion engine with all the torque needed for four-wheel drive and rock-crawling. We’ve got approach and departure angles that are better than a Humvee.
We had people up on hillside one night, waiting for the ZH2 so they could take pictures of it, and they couldn’t hear it coming. That ability to have stealthy operation and a low thermal signature, which we deliver with a fuel cell electric drive system, is very desirable for the military. They don’t want to be detected.
And then add to that the ability to export 25 to 50 kiloWatts of power [from the fuel cell], which could run a field hospital, or a laser targeting system, even a high-energy weapon. And you don’t need a big Humvee towing a diesel generator, which is bulky and very noisy. And then the fuel cell produces water, which is very valuable in battlefield conditions.
And hydrogen is just a way to store energy, so you can make it from whatever is in the field, from wind, solar, jet fuel, natural gas, any petroleum source.