We spend 60 seconds with Charlie Freese, Executive Director, General Motors Global Fuel Cell Business
What changes have you seen within the hydrogen ecosystem and community in the past year?
Hydrogen is truly starting to gain footholds in key markets. For example, the forklift business is picking up traction and ways to obtain hydrogen for fleets are improving. These developments will pave the way for future fuel cell vehicle and fleet opportunities. At GM, we’re also gaining major insights on how hydrogen can be used for military applications, as we recently concluded a year of testing the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 with the United States Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).
What hydrogen related innovation, application or technology makes you most excited for the future?
One technology or innovation isn’t going to make hydrogen more widely-accepted, it’s going to be a broader business strategy that drives the success of this industry. The critical element going forward is: how can we develop high-volume, affordable solutions that can meet a much broader market need? To support that, we’ve been successful in driving the hydrogen production and storage system costs down, and need to continue to do so. Solutions such as catalyst technology that takes platinum levels down by orders of magnitude, simplifying the H2 storage system, making better use of carbon fiber, and finding a way to ensure that the industry and governments agree on design requirements for future tanks that will be used worldwide, are a few starting points to consider. In the end, we will have a system that can be used on a broader customer base. One thing we’ve done at GM is to partner in a joint venture with Honda, which has proven to be a huge enabler for development by sharing the cost and getting the best ideas from both partners. In doing this, both companies can take the technology to market in the most affordable way.
Are there any recent or upcoming hydrogen related milestones in your company that you are especially proud of?
I’m incredibly proud of setting up the first high-volume joint venture, FCSM LLC, between two major OEMs (GM and Honda), and establishing collaborations to open new markets for a wider range of useful fuel cell adaptations by partnering with Liebherr Aerospace and the military. In our successful demonstration and testing of the ZH2 with TARDEC, we exceeded everyone’s expectations – ranging from an accelerated development to a year of rigorous testing with the military. We put our fuel cell vehicle in one of the most demanding environments and proved that H2 is as safe as any fuel the military would use on the battlefield.
Which area of hydrogen development and deployment is your company investing in currently?
General Motors is working diligently to ensure the technology we’re developing is solving our customer’s needs. We are guided by the vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion, and for my team that means working towards an all-electric future powered by battery electric and fuel cell vehicles. We find many interesting opportunities for fuel cell technology in tangential industries, and in support of that, we have adopted our air, land and sea strategy where fuel cell technology can deliver value and benefits that are not offered by the incumbent technologies. For example, we’re actively exploring solutions for aircraft, underwater submersibles and stationary power systems, and exploring the benefits to each market sector.
What has been the highlight of your Hydrogen Council membership so far (most enjoyed moment, most successful activity etc.)?
The biggest highlight for me is participating in a valuable work product that consolidates industry-vetted information to explain the complexities of the hydrogen business in industries where it currently isn’t present.
What in your opinion is the biggest challenge for hydrogen in the near future, and how would you like to see it being tackled?
The biggest challenge is infrastructure; hydrogen fuel must be cost competitive. This can’t simply be solved by one single company or government stakeholder – it requires collaboration and coordination. That’s the role that the Hydrogen Council can play and the focus needs to be on finding sustainable ways to provide hydrogen solutions in the short term so it’s easier to grow a more complete and comprehensive infrastructure for the long term.
What positive indicators for hydrogen deployment have you seen recently and what is your take on the impact they may have?
The most positive indicator we’re seeing for deployment is the market demand for hydrogen in certain sectors. For example, stationary backup power where hydrogen has a role – but is continuing to grow; forklifts that require fast refueling, have maintenance operational costs and limited floorspace; aerospace; and military, which is driven by different requirements such as low emissions and heat signature, flexible fuel opportunities, water production, direct energy to produce electricity and ability to export energy to external payloads for power. All of these disparate sectors are interested in the possibility of how hydrogen can improve operations, and it will be exciting to see how the benefits start to drive demand as each area validates safe use of hydrogen technology.
What do you think the biggest misconception is around hydrogen right now?
The biggest misconceptions are that hydrogen is dangerous and that its always going to be ten years away. We’ve been developing and operating hydrogen vehicles in public for decades, and it is a widely used industrial gas, which has been managed safely. There are vehicles and fork lifts you can buy today that are running on hydrogen. This technology has already arrived.
Are there any inspiring or exciting hydrogen related projects going on outside of your company, or with your partners, that you would like to tell us about?
There are many remarkable things going on right now, but we can’t talk about them at this time… stay tuned!
If you could describe the future of hydrogen in one sentence, what would you say?
Hydrogen is the technology of the future – available today.