battery engineering is really just a classic case of cross-pollination, he said. “Even though my disciplines were mechanical engineering and energy engineering, I never lost my interest in green energy,” he told us. “As a high skill engineer, you always need to know other disciplines in order to develop something new and better.”
Ultimately, batteries offer the same kind of green potential as wind turbines, and that satisfies Han. “A great energy future is one of my dreams,” he said. “And I think it’s possible.”
Cutting the Cost of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
GM fuel cell engineer Sara Stabenow wants to bring hydrogen-powered cars to production in the near future.
GM engineering group manager Sara Stabenow: “Every person who has visited our lab has been surprised. They always say, ‘We didn’t know you were this close to manufacturing.’” (Source: General Motors)
Sara Stabenow’s dream is to capture the unused energy from spinning wind turbines, run it through electrolyzers, and produce millions of gallons of cheap hydrogen fuel.
And when that era of cheap, plentiful, hydrogen fuel arrives, Stabenow will be ready. As an engineering group manager for General Motors’ fuel cell program, she’s already working on lower-cost fuel cells for automobiles. Next-generation fuel cells will be a fraction of the size and cost of what’s available today, she says, and will be capable of going head to head with battery-based powertrains in electric cars, as long as the hydrogen is available.
“Both have their advantages, but the fuel cell has an advantage of a very quick refill,” Stabenow told Design News . “To fill a hydrogen tank takes minutes. It’s very comparable to a conventional internal combustion car, whereas the battery has a very long recharge time.”
Indeed, the practical business case for fuel cells is emerging with greater clarity than ever before. In January, GM and Honda announced the auto industry’s first manufacturing joint venture to produce hydrogen fuel cells. The two automakers have already made equal investments totaling $85 million in the joint venture, and plan to start mass production of the fuel cell packs by 2020. In the process, they’ve already accumulated more than 2,200 patents between them.
Stabenow says that the oft-repeated claims of costly fuel cell stack are old news. One of the big cost factors – the presence of ultra-expensive platinum in the catalysts – is changing. Over the past 10 years, platinum content has dropped from 90 g to 40 g to 15 g in three generations of fuel cell products, she said.
“Going from 90 to 15 g of platinum in 10 years is a dramatic reduction,” she told us. “That translates very quickly to actual dollars.”
The cost reductions are raising hopes inside GM, which built its first fuel-cell-powered vehicle, the 7,100-lb Electrovan, back in 1966. Stabenow said that GM material scientists have also cut the cost of the plates used in the stack by employing a lower-cost grade of stainless steel. The goal is to combine those lower material costs with the economies of scale of a high-volume manufacturing plant,