General Motors to expand fuel cells beyond automobiles

By Chad Elmore10 February 2022

GM’s Hydrotec mobile and fixed power systems can charge EVs, support emergency power

Hydrogen GM and Renewable Innovations are collaborating on the Empower rapid charger that can reportedly help retail fuel stations add dc fast-charging capabilities without significant investment in non-recoverable infrastructure upgrades. (Photo: GM)

General Motors (GM) said it has continued to accelerate its growth as a platform innovator and is seeking new commercial applications for its Hydrotec fuel cell technology. The company said projects currently in development range from heavy-duty trucks to aerospace and locomotives.

GM said it is supplying its Generation 2 Hydrotec fuel cell power cubes for several generators developed by Renewable Innovations, a Linden, Utah-based company founded in 2019. Such as:

  • A mobile power generator (MPG) to fast-charge EVs without installing permanent charge points
  • The Empower rapid charger to help retail fuel stations add affordable DC fast charging without expanding the grid
  • A palletized MPG to quietly and efficiently power military camps and installations

Each of the hydrogen-powered generators developed by Renewable Innovations feature electric power generation output ranging from 60 kW to 600 kW, along with low noise and heat signatures.

“Our vision of an all-electric future is broader than just passenger vehicles or even transportation,” said Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Hydrotec business. “Our energy platform expertise with Ultium vehicle architectures and propulsion components and Hydrotec fuel cells can expand access to energy across many different industries and users, while helping to reduce emissions often associated with power generation.”

GM will supply its Hydrotec fuel cell power cubes to Renewable Innovations to build the MPG. The automaker will combine its fuel cell hardware and software with the latter’s power integration and management systems to create a generator that can provide fast-charging capability for EVs without having to expand the grid or install permanent charging assets in places where there’s only a temporary need for power.

Multiple development projects involving the MPG are already in process, said Renewable Innovations, including a demonstration of the technology as a mobile charging station for EVs funded in part by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center. This version of the MPG is expected to first be demonstrated in mid-2022.

Hydrogen GM Hydrotec and Renewable Innovations’ Mobile Power Generator can fast-charge EVs without having to expand the grid or install permanent charge points in places where there is only a temporary need for power. (Photo: GM)

“As pioneers and innovators in the hydrogen power space, Renewable Innovations sees exciting opportunities across consumer, business, government and industrial markets,” said Robert Mount, CEO and co-founder of Renewable Innovations. “We’ve seen that there’s a need for EV charging in places where there’s no charging equipment, and now we’re committed to bringing the best technology and game-changing applications to market with GM to accelerate the company’s vision of a zero emissions future.”

The California Energy Commission is funding a separate demonstration program of four additional MPGs through its Mobile Renewable Backup Generation systems program to show how hydrogen-based mobile power can help offset the loss of energy during the planned power shutoffs used to mitigate wildfires throughout the state.

This demonstration is led by the Electric Power Research Institute, the preeminent independent, non-profit energy research and development organization, collaborating with stakeholders like GM and Renewable Innovations to ensure the public has safe, reliable, affordable and equitable access to hydrogen-generated electricity.

In addition to mobile EV charging, GM and Renewable Innovations have also collaborated on the Empower rapid charger. Intended to help retail fuel stations add more affordable DC fast charging capability, the Empower rapid charger will help deploy necessary fast charging without significant investment in nonrecoverable electrical infrastructure upgrades, like larger feed wires, transformers and potentially new substations.

The rapid chargers can be installed at existing fuel stations or along corridors frequented by travelers only part of the year, such as national parks or vacation destinations.

They will be powered by eight GM Hydrotec power cubes and consumes hydrogen from internal tanks and can dc fast charge as many as four vehicles simultaneously starting at 150 kW with a target full charge time of 20 minutes, said Renewable Innovations, and more than 100 EVs can be charged by the Empower rapid charger before the unit needs to be resupplied with hydrogen.

Renewable Innovations said it plans to deploy 500 Empower rapid chargers across the country by the end of 2025.

In addition, GM designed a separate, palletized version of the MPG now being evaluated by U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC). GVSC is also exploring how this version of the MPG can power heavy-duty military equipment and camps. This prototype is equivalent in size to a 60 kW generator and produces nearly 70% more power than traditional diesel generators.

Powered by one of GM’s power cubes, the MPG prototype converts offboard, bulk-stored hydrogen to electricity generated with no emissions in operation, said Renewable Innovations. It generates less noise than a conventional diesel engine at full load and emits water which can be captured and repurposed in the field.

GM has said it will produce Hydrotec power cubes at its Fuel Cell Systems Manufacturing joint venture with Honda in Brownstown, Mich. Renewable Innovations said it will produce the trailer-based MPG and the larger, modular Empower rapid charger at its facilities in the Salt Lake City metro area.

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