GE Battery technology brings Fuel Cell Buses a step closer

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The project is part of a wider scheme with the Federal Transit Administration and Northwest Advanced Vehicle Consortium

GE Global Research, the technology development arm of General Electric Company, has achieved a major step in bringing fuel cells closer to commercial reality.

GE’s new ‘Durathon’ battery in tandem with a lithium battery and a new energy management system could help accelerate both fuel cell acceptance and electrification of bus fleets, delivery trucks and other larger, heavy-duty vehicle fleets.

In 2010, the GE team successfully demonstrated a dual battery system on a zero tailpipe emissions hybrid transit bus by pairing a high-energy density sodium battery with a high-power lithium battery. Further testing in 2012 using GE’s new Durathon battery produced even better results. GE researchers are convinced the kind of energy management architecture they are building will allow a bus to operate at full performance with a significantly smaller fuel cell than previously possible. As the fuel cell power plant represents a significant cost, GE’s energy management system has the potential to bring down those costs by up to 50%.

“For years fuel cells have been talked about as a clean transportation alternative but cost has always been a roadblock to widespread adoption,” said Tim Richter, Systems Engineer. “With GE’s battery technology and dynamic dual battery management system, we’re starting to push that roadblock aside. We want to deliver a cost-effective bus which emits no harmful pollutants.”

The research is part of a $13m project GE is engaged in with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Northeast Advanced Vehicle Consortium, funded under the National Fuel Cell Bus Program.

“GE’s Multi-Energy High Voltage Energy Management Technology releases vehicle designers from the traditional constraints of single battery configurations,” Richter continued. “GE’s Energy Management Technology combined with two or more batteries or energy devices allows GE to enable various power-to-energy configurations which match the vehicle needs. By leveraging the right battery to do the right job, overall system cost and efficiency can be improved.”

Most types of battery come with a trade-off between power and energy storage. For example, lithium batteries provide a lot of power for acceleration but are not optimised to store energy for driving range. Sodium batteries, like GE’s Durathon, store large amounts of energy but are less optimised for power. GE’s dual battery combines the best attributes of both into a single system. In the hybrid transit bus demonstration, the lithium battery focused on the high power acceleration and braking, while the Durathon battery provided an even electric power flow to extend the bus range.

Durathon batteries are produced at GE’s start-up Energy Storage business in Schenectady, N.Y. This year, thousands of Durathon batteries will be shipped to the telecommunication market, enabling fuel efficiency improvements and emission reduction at diesel generator powered cell sites across Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia, and providing reliable back-up power at cell sites which cope with intermittent supply of electricity from the grid.

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