In what it says is an important milestone for an alternative zero-emissions vehicle technology, GM announced that hydrogen fuel cell production kicked off today at the joint facility it operates with Honda at the Brownstown Battery Assembly Plant in Brownstown, Michigan.
GM says the site is using automated systems in the assembly of membrane electrodes and fuel cell stacks to maximize productivity and quality in the manufacture of the hydrogen fuel cells.
The operation, which has been dubbed Fuel Cell System Manufacturing, LLC or FCSM, has ownership split evenly between The General and Honda. FCSM vice president Tetsuo Suzuki says “we integrated the strengths of Honda and GM to create the most capable production system at this joint venture,” which GM claims is the first full-scale manufacturing facility for automotive hydrogen fuel cells.
Economies of scale in production are expected to drive down the cells’ cost, as are new, more advanced fuel cell designs that use fewer precious metals while utilizing readily available components wherever possible. The General says the resulting fuel cell is roughly 33 percent cheaper than the ones used in the 2019 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell.
The hydrogen fuel cells now in mass production at Brownstown Battery are said to be not only more affordable but also twice as durable as previous designs and flexible enough for multiple commercial applications. The process to reach this point began a decade ago in 2014 when the two automakers inked a hydrogen fuel cell partnership aimed at reducing research, development, and manufacturing costs by pooling their know-how and resources.
The partners invested $85 million in the FCSM facility in 2017, a sum later augmented by a $2 million grant from the state government of Michigan. Honda announced the upcoming launch of a FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) compact crossover that would compete against the Chevy Equinox EV in late 2022. Since then, it has been revealed that GM jointly developed the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain to be used in the crossover.
The new fuel cells have improved operating characteristics at low temperatures and are made with corrosion-resistant materials. The General says the cells will “be utilized in a variety of zero-emissions propulsion and energy management applications.”