The internal combustion engine took one small step toward obsolescence yesterday, when General Motors announced the addition of an 80,000-square-foot research facility in upstate New York that will be wholly dedicated to the commercialization of fuel cells. Fuel cells generate electricity by mixing hydrogen and oxygen; the only byproduct of the process is water. The Bush administration has expressed great enthusiasm for fuel-cell development, but to date, only prototype fuel-cell-powered cars exist. With the new facility, GM will explore the feasibility of manufacturing fuel cells on a large scale. The company, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars per year on fuel-cell research, plans to make mass-produced fuel cells available by the middle of this decade. The first ones, however, will be used for non-transport needs; GM doesn’t expect to manufacture fuel-cell cars for the retail market until about 2010.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.