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Green Hydrogen Is Becoming Attractive

GM EMPOWER Rapid Chargers

General Motors has entered into a joint development agreement with Nel Hydrogen to help accelerate the industrial use of their proton exchange membrane electrolyzer platform. The agreement looks to meld GM’s extensive hydrogen fuel cell expertise with Nel’s intimate knowledge of electrolyzers. The stated goal is to bring forwards more cost-competitive sources of renewable hydrogen.

GM has been working to develop and commercialize its Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell technology which reaches far beyond the light-duty vehicle space. The company has already brought forward a hydrogen-powered Mobile Power Generator which can provide fast charging capability for EVs without installing permanent charge points, along with EMPOWER, a rapid charger to help retail fuel stations offer affordable DC fast charging. Power generation output ranges from 60 kilowatts to 600 kilowatts. Other HYDROTEC applications include heavy-duty vehicles including military, locomotives, and aerospace applications.

In partnering with Nel, GM is working with the first company in the world to develop a fully automated alkaline electrolyzer production line. Nel is now looking to replicate the success of its alkaline line with the proton exchange membrane electrolyzer, GM will be supplying the industrial demand.

General Motors Hydrotec fuel cells

A PEM electrolyzer works in much the same way a hydrogen fuel cell does except in reverse. Water goes in, electricity is applied and hydrogen and oxygen come out the other side, a fuel cell uses hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water. Nel will compensate General Motors for development work and IP transfer on an ongoing basis and will pay a license after successful commercialization dependent on how much hydrogen produced is based on GM technology.

“Adding Nel as a strategic collaborator is an important step to help us commercialize fuel cell technology. Electrolysis is key to creating consistent, clean sources of hydrogen to power fuel cells,” said Charles Freese, GM executive director, Global HYDROTEC. “Nel has some of the most promising electrolyzer technology to help develop clean hydrogen infrastructure, and we believe our HYDROTEC fuel cell IP can help them get closer to scale.”

The stated goal of the partnership is to quickly scale up the electrolyzer technology in order to develop a green hydrogen technology that can be cost-competitive with fossil fuels. This has been an action-packed space lately, with companies and governments across the globe seeming now smitten with the potential offered by a hydrogen economy.

Nel PEM production facility

Cummins is fully invested and has already developed hydrogen combustion engines that will reach commercial applications shortly, the aerospace and industrial spaces are interested in developing hydrogen hubs to ease the transition, plus there’s the potential to use hydrogen to supply the grid with much-needed electricity without having to build new facilities.

There could be a significant long-tail to this agreement as well with Nel heavily involved in the entire chain of hydrogen production technology, from the actual creation of hydrogen all the way down to the manufacturing and set up of hydrogen fueling stations. It’s often said that the hydrogen economy faces a chicken vs egg development dilemma (where have we seen this before?), do we create infrastructure first and build the applications later, or the inverse and create the applications first? The collaboration between GM and Nel could ease some of those tensions.

Written by Michael Accardi

Michael refuses to sit still, he's held multiple hands-on automotive jobs throughout his career. Along with being an investigative writer and accomplished photographer, Michael works for several motorsports organizations.

He was part of the Ford GT program at Multimatic, oversaw a fleet of Audi TCR race cars, has ziptied Lamborghini Super Trofeo cars back together, been over the wall in the Rolex 24, and worked in the cut-throat world of IndyCar.

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