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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Nov/Dec 2006 : Cleantech

Cleantech: Honoring the Commitment
GM is putting its money where its mouth is concerning sustainability with the release of the new Equinox Fuel Cell vehicle, as well as the manufacture of a LEED Gold facility.

special to green@work

General Motors (GM)’s commitment to hydrogen fuel cells is the company’s answer to the environmental debate about reducing our nation’s dependence on petroleum. Clearly, conserving energy, especially reducing the nation’s dependence on petroleum, benefits the United States in several ways. Reducing total petroleum use and reducing petroleum imports decreases our economy’s vulnerability to oil price shocks. Reducing dependence on oil imports from unstable regions enhances our energy security, and can reduce the flow of oil profits to certain states now hostile to the United States. Conserving energy helps achieve the goal of decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity, mitigating the potential risks of global climate change.

GM’s continued development of advanced technology may help to achieve significant reductions in foreign oil dependence and stability in the world oil market. The continued infusion of hybrid propulsion vehicles and advanced diesels into the U.S. light-truck fleet may also contribute to reduced dependence on petroleum. Chevrolet’s Equinox Fuel Cell will be the next-generation fuel-cell vehicle GM will build. GM sources say more than 100 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles will be placed with customers in the fall of 2007. Designed to gain comprehensive knowledge on all aspects of the customer experience, this initiative will be called “Project Driveway.” A variety of drivers—in differing driving environments—will operate these vehicles and refuel with hydrogen in three geographic areas: California, the New York metropolitan area and Washington, D.C.

“ The Equinox Fuel Cell is powered by GM’s most advanced fuel-cell propulsion system to date, and demonstrates an important milestone on our pathway to automotive-competitive fuel-cell propulsion technology development,” said Larry Burns, GM vice president of research and development and strategic planning. Enabled by GM’s fourth-generation fuel-cell propulsion system, the Equinox Fuel Cell is a fully functional crossover vehicle, engineered for 50,000 miles of life. It is expected to meet all applicable 2007 U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Equipped with a long list of standard safety features, the Equinox Fuel Cell “is a real-world vehicle with real-world performance,” said Ed Peper, Chevrolet general manager. “The fuel-cell technology is seamlessly integrated into a uniquely styled crossover vehicle that is distinctively Chevrolet.”

GM’s “Project Driveway” market test will provide comprehensive insight into all aspects of the Equinox Fuel Cell customer experience, including reaction to the exciting, smooth and quiet performance of a fuel-cell vehicle, and refueling with clean hydrogen gas. “These learnings will directly influence future fuel-cell vehicle generations and ultimate market acceptance,” Peper said.

Going for Gold
GM’s new Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant has received a Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. To date, the building is the only automotive manufacturing plant in the world—as well as the largest facility and the most complex manufacturing site—to ever receive any level of LEED certification. LEED certification is the building industry’s well-respected recognition of superior energy and environmental design and construction. A Gold certification recognizes a high level of performance. Lansing Delta Township is one of just 550 buildings worldwide that are LEED certified at any level—and of these buildings, only a third are certified at the Gold level.

During the first 10 years of operations, the facility is expected to save more than 40 million gallons of water and 30 million kwh of electricity. “Lansing Delta Township is the first of the next generation of industrial buildings,” said David Skiven, executive director, GM Worldwide Facilities Group. “It proves that sustainable manufacturing buildings can be economically built and operated. We are extremely proud of the innovative thinking of our employees and partners on the team that made this possible.”

Commenting on the certification, USGBC President S. Richard Fedrizzi noted that the acceptance of green buildings has been slower within the manufacturing sector than for other commercial uses. “GM’s Lansing Delta Township Plant is a very good—and large—example of how it’s possible to incorporate sustainable practices into large-scale manufacturing facilities,” Fedrizzi said. “Today, not only is it possible, it is cost- and energy-efficient, and provides a healthy environment for employees. We expect GM’s plant will change the way manufacturing buildings are built in the future.”

This is a quantum leap forward for the industry. GM has done more than just talk about how the industry needs to respond to protect the environment; they have acted in a new and powerful way to demonstrate how this can be done.

Paul Faeth, managing director of World Resources Institute (WRI), an independent nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that studies environmental and development issues, said, “GM has been a leader in the application of efficiency and renewables for quite some time. This award is a well-deserved recognition of the company’s commitment to sound environmental management of their facilities.” GM is a member of WRI’s Green Power Market Development Group.

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