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Although the technology remains a gamble and its first fuel-cell-powered grid-ready car won’t hit the market before 2010, the company has mapped out steps for achieving its goal. In September General Motors snapped a specially designed auto body onto a fuel cell skateboard and unveiled its first drivable prototype. To help accelerate fuel cell development and grid readiness, the auto giant plans to enter the electricity business by 2005 and begin selling stationary fuel cells to supply power to buildings.

To make all this happen, General Motors has corralled research groups in Germany, New York, Michigan, and California into the Hydronomy effort; the project’s 600 workers include 100 added in 2002. In one area of emphasis, researchers are developing the electronics for connecting a car to a house or grid. To achieve that objective, in 2002 General Motors added a research group at the company’s Advanced Technology Center in Torrance, CA. The electronics are already available for large stationary fuel cells, but the challenge for the Torrance group is to make inexpensive versions small enough for cars. Meanwhile, in Honeoye Falls, NY, company researchers are trying to improve fuel cell efficiency, and they are also working on an affordable and rugged reformer, a device that makes hydrogen from such fuels as natural gas and gasoline.

Such large efforts by major companies might just change the way we get from here to there, as well as how we power our houses. “[This technology] begins to obliterate the distinctions between stationary and mobile applications,” says John Turner, a principal scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO.

Like many other disruptive technologies, this one starts with a simple vision: in this case, a fuel cell skateboard in every driveway.

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