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First-Ever On-Board Gasoline Powered Fuel Cell For Automobiles

October 23, 1997
Arthur D. Little
The new technology promises greater fuel efficiencies, near-zero emission levels, and lower cost fuel alternatives for the automobile industry.

New Technology Discovery Promises New Market Opportunities, Greater Fuel Efficiencies, Near-zero Emission Levels and Lower Cost Fuel Alternatives For Automobile Industry

Cambridge, MA – October 21, 1997 – The U.S. Department of Energy and Arthur D. Little, in conjunction with Plug Power and the Energy Department's Los Alamos National Laboratory, have successfully demonstrated a first-ever gasoline-powered “fuel cell” electric engine for the automobile.

The new technology will allow the automotive industry to create new fleets of vehicles that can realize up to 80 mpg fuel economy with a near-zero exhaust emissions. This is the first time that fuel cell electricity has been generated by hydrogen from gasoline in a module that can be placed aboard a vehicle. The innovation heralds the next generation of engines to replace the internal combustion engine.

“Technology is increasingly important as the nation focuses on environmental protection and climate challenges," said Secretary of Energy Federico Pena. "Today's breakthrough is just one example of cutting-edge technology that could be commonplace in the future -- reducing greenhouse gases and improving the air we breathe.”

In addition to the economic and ecological advantages, gasoline-powered fuel cell technology has been long sought by the industry as a practical means by which automakers can realistically produce a new breed of cars by using the current $200 billion oil and gasoline distribution pipeline and infrastructure (e.g. trucking, service stations, etc.).

“This invention will create new industries, and further leverages ADL's strength in recognizing a market breakthrough and mapping leading-edge product and service innovations to new industry opportunities,” said Charles R. LaMantia, CEO of Arthur D. Little. “The economic and market impact around this new capability is without precedence, and we are actively pursuing investors and venture capitalists in order to accelerate the pace at which we can bring this new technology to market,” he stated.

“This is a great example of how we look carefully at the business strategy of each innovation, in addition to the scientific and engineering side of the equation,” said Jeffrey Bentley, inventor of this business concept and a vice president at Arthur D. Little. “Arthur D. Little recognized that auto manufacturers would only adopt this new technology if we could eliminate the risk associated with fuel availability,” he added.Fuel cells generate electricity through an electro-chemical process. The cell converts the chemical energy of hydrogen and air (oxygen) into electrical energy. The by-products of this process are water vapor and heat. This system produces negligible amounts of sulfur and nitrogen oxides and less than half the amount of carbon dioxide greenhouse gas compared to internal combustion engines.

Because of the ecological and cost benefits of fuel cells, automakers have been scrambling to create a fuel cell technology to replace today's internal combustion engine. However, storing hydrogen, the key ingredient needed to produce the electricity that powers an on-board vehicle fuel cell, is not easily achievable in any practical or cost effective automotive system. By using gasoline in the on-board fuel processor, vehicles may now be able to house smaller gasoline tanks because of the increased efficiency of fuel cells.

“This discovery is important in that it also incorporates a fuel flexible design,” stated Bentley. “Our fuel processor design is capable of converting a variety of hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline and ethanol into hydrogen. Ethanol is commonly made from corn and offers great promise in the powering of electric vehicles. The operating cost of an automobile will also dramatically be reduced,” he added.

The discovery is the result of a five-year program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The department partnered with Arthur D. Little, the project lead in advancing the development of on-board fuel processors and proving that fuel cell-based power systems are viable alternatives to traditional internal combustible engines. The State of Illinois and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board have also been partners in the development effort of creating new possibilities for cleaner and more efficient transportation for the 21st century.

The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) is a cooperative research and development program between the federal government and the United States Council of Automotive Research (USCAR, a cooperative venture among Ford, General Motors and Chrysler). The goal of the PNGV is to develop technology that leads to a passenger automobile with 80 miles per gallon fuel economy. The Department of Commerce leads the PNGV with the Department of Energy providing major support.

Arthur D. Little and Plug Power will work together under a $15 million cost-shared contract recently awarded by the Department of Energy to further develop this technology.

Arthur D. Little, Inc. is an employee-owned global strategic consulting firm with more than 3,700 professionals in 30 countries. The Company links an organization's product and service innovation management, business process management, and knowledge management with its strategy to improve business performance. Arthur D. Little was founded in 1886 and its home page address is For further information on Arthur D. Little innovations in the automotive industry—

Plug Power LLC is a joint venture of DTE Energy Co. (parent of Detroit Edison) and Mechanical Technology, Inc. (an early developer of fuel cell technologies). The company was created in June, 1997 to develop and manufacture fuel cells for automotive applications and residential electric power generation. For further information, call the company in Latham, NY at (518) 785-2200.

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Arthur D. Little. "First-Ever On-Board Gasoline Powered Fuel Cell For Automobiles." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 October 1997. <>.
Arthur D. Little. (1997, October 23). First-Ever On-Board Gasoline Powered Fuel Cell For Automobiles. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 27, 2017 from
Arthur D. Little. "First-Ever On-Board Gasoline Powered Fuel Cell For Automobiles." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 27, 2017).