Hearings and Business Meetings
SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM
Dr. Lawrence Burns
General Motors Corporation
Lawrence D. Burns, Ph.D.
Vice President, Research & Development and Strategic Planning
General Motors Corporation
Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Full Committee Hearing – Next-Generation Nuclear Plant Project
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.
June 12, 2006
Mr. Chairman and Committee Members, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on behalf of General Motors. I am Larry Burns, GM’s Vice President of Research & Development and Strategic Planning, and I am leading GM’s effort to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles.
GM has placed very high priority on fuel cells and hydrogen as the long-term power source and energy carrier for automobiles. We see this combination as the best way to simultaneously increase energy independence, remove the automobile from the environmental debate, and allow automakers to create better vehicles that customers will want to buy in high volumes.
High volume is critical. It is the only way to meet the growing global demand for automobiles while realizing the large-scale energy and environmental benefits we are seeking. By 2020, there will be more than one billion vehicles on the planet, up from over 800 million today. Clearly, with the increased demand for energy and automobiles, a greater effort to make automotive transportation truly sustainable is required.
GM’s fuel cell program is focused on three areas:
• Developing a fuel cell propulsion system that can compete head-to-head with internal combustion engine systems.
• Demonstrating our progress publicly to let key stakeholders experience firsthand the promise of this technology.
• Collaborating with energy companies and governments to ensure that safe, convenient, and affordable hydrogen is available to our customers, enabling rapid transformation to fuel cell vehicles.
We are targeting to design and validate an automotive-competitive fuel cell propulsion system by 2010. By automotive competitive, we mean a system that has the performance, durability, and cost (assuming scale volumes) of today’s internal combustion engine systems.
This aggressive timetable is a clear indication that fuel cell technology for automotive application is industry driven (rather than government driven) and that this technology has matured to a point where such timing is indeed possible.
We have made significant progress on the technology:
• In the last seven years, we have improved fuel cell power density by a factor of fourteen, while enhancing the efficiency and reducing the size of our fuel cell stack.
• We have significantly improved fuel cell durability, reliability, and cold start capability.
• We have developed safe hydrogen storage systems that approach the range of today’s vehicles, and we have begun to explore very promising concepts for the next generation of storage technology.
• We have made significant progress on cost reduction through technology improvement and system simplification.
Our progress has convinced us that fuel cell vehicles have the potential to be fundamentally better automobiles on nearly all attributes important to our customers, a key to enabling high-volume sales. And, with just 1/10th as many moving propulsion parts as conventional systems, our vision design has the potential to meet our cost and durability targets.
Today, we are demonstrating our vehicles around the world:
• We have had a six-vehicle fleet here in Washington, D.C. for four years, and 4,300 people have participated in a ride or drive. We also have demonstrations under way in California, Japan, Germany, China, and Korea.
• We collaborated with the U.S. Army on the development of the world’s first fuel cell-powered military truck, which has been evaluated and maintained by military personnel at both Ft. Belvoir and Camp Pendleton.
• We will field 32 of our next-generation fuel cell vehicles as part of the Department of Energy’s Learning Demo, beginning in 2007.
• And we created the AUTOnomy, Hy-wire, and Sequel concepts, which show how new automotive DNA can reinvent the automobile. Sequel is the first fuel cell vehicle capable of driving 300 miles between fill ups. Later this year, we will be holding test drives to demonstrate the capabilities of this truly impressive vehicle.
With respect to collaboration, we are working with key partners on virtually every aspect of fuel cell and infrastructure technology. Among our partners are Shell Hydrogen, Sandia National Lab, Dow Chemical, Hydrogenics, and QUANTUM Technologies, as well as the Department of Energy and the FreedomCar and Fuel Partnership involving Ford, DaimlerChrysler, and five energy companies.
One challenge to fast industry transformation is the fueling infrastructure. A major advantage of hydrogen is that it can be obtained from many pathways, including nuclear and renewable resources. As such, it promises to relieve our 98-percent dependence on petroleum as an energy source for our cars and trucks.
GM is not in the energy business, so we are not experts on the energy industry. But, as we work to commercialize fuel cell vehicles, we have a keen interest in hydrogen pathways, and the technologies and economics involved in the various methods.
The best way to think about hydrogen is like we think of electricity. Most of us don’t know which energy source is being used to power our homes; we do know that there are a variety of sources supplying power to the grid. For example, most of Vermont’s electricity is generated from nuclear power; in Idaho, most is generated from hydropower; a major source in Texas is natural gas, and in many states much of the electricity is produced using coal.
Similarly, there is no single, best answer with respect to hydrogen; there are various options from which to choose. Each region will evaluate the resources that it has available. And, as technology progresses, and the economics change, and societal pressures emerge relative to environmental concerns and energy use, different options will become preferable in different locations.
GM believes an important hydrogen pathway is generation of inexpensive electricity produced by means of nuclear power, or creation of hydrogen directly from nuclear energy.
Currently, 441 nuclear power plants operating in 30 countries – including 103 in the United States – produce about 16 percent of the world’s electricity. What if we could use this generating capacity at off-peak hours and harness it for transportation power?
In the U.S. alone, nuclear power production today is a 60-billion-dollar industry, and transportation energy is a 300-billion-dollar market. If nuclear energy were to be employed to produce hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles, that opens up an exciting new option for the energy industry.
The key questions are: How fast will the fuel cell vehicle market ramp up? And can the nuclear industry compete at a hydrogen price equivalent to two-to-three dollars per gallon of gasoline?
To summarize GM’s position: We see hydrogen as the long-term automotive fuel and the fuel cell as the long-term power source. Our fuel cell program seeks to create clean, affordable, full-performance fuel cell vehicles that will excite and delight our customers. We believe customers will buy these vehicles in large numbers and that society will reap the economic, energy, and environmental benefits.
Similarly, we believe that building clean, renewable energy pathways will enable America to reduce its dependence on imported oil, increase our energy security, promote the creation of new industries, stimulate jobs creation and sustainable economic growth, and ensure our country’s ability to compete on a global basis.
GM applauds the enactment of the Next Generation Nuclear Plan Project as part of last year’s Energy Bill. We view nuclear power as having an important role in developing the Hydrogen Economy. And we are ready and eager to work collaboratively with government, energy companies, and suppliers on energy pathways that will drive the Hydrogen Economy to reality.