More conversations with GM's fuel cell technology director, Chris Borroni-Bird


Chris Borroni-Bird is the director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts at GM. He's leading the effort at GM to make fuel cell vehicles, based on a "skateboard" style chassis called AUTOnomy that incorporates the fuel cell, motors and electronics control.

GMnext kindly invited me to visit with Dr. Borroni-Bird and have a discussion with him about "innovation, technology, energy, the environment, and their impact on the future of the automobile." He's a fascinating innovator with ideas that could change transportation around the world. I hope he succeeds.

Here are more videos from our conversation. (Note: GMnext compensated me for my video appearance.) Link Chris Borroni-Bird and Mark Frauenfelder in conversation (GM Next)


  1. Sorry i have to post here but this site is kinda confusing. Can anyone tell me how i can have my account deleted or at least the name changed? Is there any way to get in contact with Mods? Thank you!

  2. Aha. Mark is a “technology evangelist”. That solves the mystery what his specific contribution to BoingBoing is.

  3. Actually, they made an error. It’s “Echhnology Evangelist.” That’s what’s printed on the badge I picked up at the conference.

  4. Again, GM with the fuel cell vaporware. It’s been years now. How about the real pure-electric cars they recalled and crushed?

  5. “How about the real pure-electric cars they recalled and crushed?”

    When crushed properly, they’re fantastic tossed in an arugula and endive salad.

  6. GM’s better hurry before they go under…

    Really, I don’t believe that they are serious, no more than their customers who bought all those gas guzzlers for more than two decades even after the warning we’ve got in the seventies and who will be back at it if the price of gas ever go down or just stabilize long enough for them to regain the illusion.

    GM changing the planet: I’m burning in the shade right now so haven’t they done that enough already?

  7. Can anyone tell me how i can have my account deleted or at least the name changed?

    Accounts are undeletable. I might be able to change your display name, but it wouldn’t be retroactive. If you have more questions, you can click the eyeball for this comment and leave a note for Teresa.

  8. this is all a game.
    they have no intentions to sell anything that is efficient.

    look at every car company for the last 30+ years, there has been little in the way of cutting edge designs that hit market. why? out of the 10 big auto makers how is it possible that not one of them decides to go in a totally different direction. the EV-1 was the exception, and was scrapped for obvious reasons. its a fact that these companies don’t want electric cars and will destroy the planet before it gives up profits. not to mention helping their big oil buddies.

    its not totally their fault though, consumers are buying the crap they are selling. americans went nuts over SUVs, still are, kinda. they have all been tainted by the talking points. ‘SUVs are safer.’ ‘I like to sit higher in traffic.’ ‘I need all this room’

    we really need to start demanding alternatives to the standard ‘car’ from these auto makers. and if they cant pull it off then they deserve to go out of business. GM can manufacture what they want, but its up to us to shape the market. its sad that cars average MPG has staggered int he 20’s for so long.

  9. I have tons of respect for Frauenfelder’s projects (boingboing and make being some of the coolest things around these days) but this is just 100% corporate PR. I hope he got paid well.

    For some perspective, check out this Wired article on hydrogen power:

    Or read this wikipedia quote:
    “Hydrogen has been called the least efficient and most expensive possible replacement for gasoline (petrol).”

  10. Nonsense, HappyIsland; Mark isn’t the only person paying attention to this tech, either. I’ve been reading about in the electrical engineering press for about a year on and off; and whether or not it makes it to market, a lot of good engineers are working the details really hard.

  11. Yeah, when comparing GM’s track record for fuel-consumption and energy efficiency to Honda, Toyota, or Volvo (I think all the american ones are under the GM umbrella, right?) I’d say they came dead last for having a green car before this green thing flourished.
    My 91 civic honda gets me 320 kms using half a gas tank + a smidgeon more.

    So, while I’m poo-pooing GM and their belatedness, I have to say congrats to them for at least coming around to change. But they better not act like they freaking invented it.

    I would imagine that Toyota or Honda would out-do any of GM’s technologies, should they do it beyond the prius and fit.

  12. In terms of the video, it doesn’t really change my mind as to hydrogen fuel cells to power vehicles being perhaps one of the stupidest possible ways to do so:

    1. They’re not much better environmentally since we tend to either make hydrogen from natural gas (thus emissions), or water, which uses more electricity than the hydrogen produced will ever give us.

    2. They’re not practical, as we’d need to build a huge number of expensive new filling stations (the inherent chicken & egg problem) and use more energy shipping the hydrogen to them.

    3. At every stage of getting the energy originally in the form of natural gas or electricity to actually move a vehicle forward, we lose even more energy, and there are a number of steps.

    4. Finally, both the hydrogen itself, as well as the vehicles, are very expensive. I’ll leave you with the words of Takeo Fukui, the president of Honda, who are arguably the leaders in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles:

    “Mr. Fukui said the cars cost several hundred thousand dollars each to produce, though he said that should drop below $100,000 in less than a decade as production volumes increase.”

    Again, GM with the fuel cell vaporware. It’s been years now. How about the real pure-electric cars they recalled and crushed?


    Although I certainly didn’t like what they did with the EV1, I really think the Chevy Volt (not a concept car) is probably the most exciting vehicle I’ve seen in recent years since it goes around 40 miles using nothing but electricity (enough for the vast majority of trips).

    What really sets it apart from ordinary electric vehicles is that for longer journeys it has a small, highly efficient internal-combustion engine to recharge the battery and extend the range by another 320 miles (at around 50MPG). If you need to go further than 360 miles, just fill it up.

  13. happyisland @12 – Just to be clear, I don’t take money to post on Boing Boing. Never have.

  14. I’m sorry but GM has been blowing smoke up consumers and government officials asses for nearly two decades with their “fuel cell” technology.

    Fuel cell technology is proving far too difficult and expensive for and short or medium term solution. It’s more of a delay tool for big oil and big US auto than it is a real strategy.

    Electric plugin are definitely coming within the next two years. In fact we have all electric cars available in Canada right now (ZENN)! But alas our wise and MINORITY government has declared these vehicles dangerous because of their slow speeds. Apparently driving at a speed of 40kmh is dangerous!

    GM and US automakers are going to continue to blow as much smoke up everyone’s ass for as long as it takes them to evacuate the US to set up shop in poorer third world countries in a last ditch effort to innovate themselves back into competitiveness!

  15. There was a big piece in the Economist a few weeks ago about alternative energy.

    They seemed to be claiming that GM is betting the farm on the Chevy Volt, which will be a “mostly” electric car that they’re planning to ship by 2010.

    As was mentioned in the comments before. I think that the real solution to this problem is going to come from algae or some other GMO. Or at least it will provide a bridge technology until we figure something better out…

    I have to say, seeing all these new alt-energy startups crop up has been beautiful.

  16. If Mark says he wasn’t paid to post to Boing Boing, I’m sure he’s telling the truth. But it’s pretty obvious that he was paid to represent BoingBoing in a PR campaign, which is kind of awkward to reconcile with the idea that BoingBoing’s “indie” or “not for sale”.

    Anyway, he did acknowledge very clearly that he was compensated, which is more than many journalists do, so that’s commendable.

  17. Assumetehposition @2, there’s no mystery about it. If I thought you were genuinely asking a question, I’d point out things like starting Boing Boing as a hardcopy magazine, turning it into a weblog, and recruiting the other Boingers. There’s lots more I could list, if you’d been asking a question instead of taking a cheap shot.

    Anonymous @15: I’m with you on Hondas — great engineering, thoroughly debugged, and they’ve noticed which planet they’re on.

    Julian @16, the infrastructure wasn’t there for the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, either. I expect that existing gas stations will be retrofitted for new fuels. It’s the easiest way to do it.

    Error404, Takuan: Algae? If it works, I like it better than using terrestrial vegetation. Besides, it would suck up carbon dioxide.

    Zikzak @23, Mark was not paid to represent Boing Boing in a PR campaign. There was no such sponsorship. I’d know if there were. He was, as he says, compensated for his video appearance.

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