Is GM One Step Closer To Hydrogen Cars for Everyone?


Hydrogen and mass transportation have been uneasy partners ever since the Hindenberg ended its career so spectacularly over New Jersey in 1937.

However, a mass market car powered by hydrogen fuel cells may be on the way soon. GM, the worlds' largest auto maker has announced that it will reassign around 500 engineering staff working on hydrogen cars from its research operations into divisions responsible for production.

The shift in organizational structure is significant because it means that GM is getting ready to take the technology out of the lab and put into the showroom. The Chicago Tribune quotes Larry Burns, VP of research and technology, as comparing the move to 2003, when the company moved engineers responsible for hybrid gasoline-electric technologies from research to production. Since that time, GM has brought a number of hybrid vehicles to market.

The GM news comes right on the tail of Honda's announcement in May that it will begin limited production of the hydrogen fuel cell powered FCX in 2008.

Hydrogen fuel cells have been hailed for years as a solution for both CO2 pollution and the burgeoning energy shortage. A car that breaks down hydrogen to fuel an electric engine would use no fossil fuels and would produce water as its only waste product, but it's been a challenge to turn the idea into an affordable consumer-friendly reality, and so far only "concept" vehicles have been built.

However, with oil prices skyrocketing, and global warming a growing consumer concern, more dollars have been flowing into hydrogen research.

There are still enormous hurdles to overcome - finding a renewable, non-polluting source of hydrogen and building fueling infrastructure chief among them - but solving such problems will become more economically viable if a critical mass of fuel cell cars can be put on the road.

In a sign that hydrogen cars may become a celebrity trend bigger than DUI arrests or multi-ethnic adoptions, world-dad Brad Pitt turned up at the June 6 opening of Oceans 13 in a BMW Hydrogen 7, powered by, well, you know.

Now if we can just get 50 Cent out of that stretch Hummer.

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