At present, the processor is running in excess of 80% efficiency and is GM's second-generation design. A third generation, which will be half the size and weight, is planned shortly and a vehicle using this technology is planned within 18 months.
The processor is the result of a three-year research programme by the two companies, and officials believe the discovery is the key to accelerate fuel cell production.
As the processor uses petrol as a fuel to create a high-quality stream of hydrogen, consumers will be able to fuel these new vehicles the same way they fuel present cars and may be used as an interim application between today's cars and tomorrow's fuel cell vehicles. General Motors believes it will have a hydrogen-powered production vehicle ready for 2004 and that by 2010, 10% of global sales will be fuel cell-based, rising to 25% by 2025.
Lawrence Burns, GM vice president for Research and Development, said 'We've addressed an important technical challenge and accomplished what others thought wasn't possible. Consumers want practical solutions. Fuel cells based on gasoline make use of an existing infrastructure and mean that cleaner, more efficient vehicles can be in consumer's hands within 10 years.'
Bill Innes, president of ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company, added: 'This is a direct result of combining the capabilities of the petroleum and automotive industries. Since signing the agreement in 1998 to conduct research on hardware and fuel options for next generation vehicles, ExxonMobil and GM have made significant breakthroughs to speed the development of a gasoline processor.