General Motors isn’t among the trio of automakers — Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota — selling hydrogen fuel-cell passenger cars in the United States. Instead, GM is looking at a different type of fuel-cell vehicle.
The GM SURUS (Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure) is essentially a platform with wheels that can be equipped for a variety of tasks, and could be outfitted for autonomous driving. GM believes trucks like this could be used by the military, as cargo haulers, or to provide emergency backup power during disasters.
The SURUS is powered by a new generation of fuel-cell system called Hydrotec, which provides electricity for electric motors at each axle. Maximum range on hydrogen is 400 miles, according to GM. The truck also has a supplemental lithium-ion battery pack.
Because the fuel cells, electric motors, hydrogen storage tanks, and batteries can all be mounted under the cargo floor, The SURUS offers more packaging flexibility than conventional diesel trucks. GM also claims that it can discharge electricity to provide power in emergency situations, and even create potable water. After all, water is the only “emission” from a hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain.
Trucks based on the SURUS design could also be equipped for autonomous driving, according to GM. Multiple vehicles could operate in a convoy, with the trailing trucks autonomously following the vehicle in front. Known as “platooning,” this concept has been discussed by multiple autonomous-vehicle developers, and will be tested by Daimler using semi trucks in Oregon.
GM wants to develop the SURUS design into a family of commercial vehicles, and it’s not alone in thinking hydrogen fuel cells and big trucks are a good combination. Nikola Motors aims to produce a fuel-cell semi truck, and Toyota is demonstrating one in Los Angeles. While much attention is paid to carbon emissions from passenger cars, reducing the emissions of commercial vehicles could have a major environmental impact.
The military will likely be the first customer for a vehicle based on GM’s SURUS. GM has already worked with the armed services on fuel-cell projects, including a hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck, called the ZH2. The quietness and low heat signatures of fuel-cell vehicles could make them ideal for military use, according to GM. Even the Army needs to think about going green.
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