Nissan working on bio-ethanol powered fuel cell

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 16 June 2016

JAPAN car maker Nissan is aiming to deliver a Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered system using bio-ethanol as the on-board hydrogen source to consumers by 2020.

The major benefit is the removal of bulky on-board hydrogen tanks — making future fuel cell cars lighter, and cheaper to make.

The company told a media briefing that the new e-Bio Fuel Cell system — a world-first for automotive use — features an SOFC stack and an on-board reformer to convert 100 percent ethanol or ethanol-blended water (55% water, 45% ethanol) to hydrogen.


Bio-ethanol is extracted from crops such as corn and sugarcane and Nissan’s technology will combine the transformed bio-ethanol with air to power an electric motor.

That cleverly does way with the need for bulky on board hydrogen tanks or special fuel stations.

SOFCs can make use of the reaction of multiple fuels, including ethanol and natural gas, with oxygen to produce electricity with high efficiency.

The e-Bio Fuel Cell system is suited for larger vehicles and longer ranges (~600 km) than battery-electric vehicles, Nissan said.

The e-Bio Fuel Cell system can be run 24×7; features a quiet drive and short refueling time; is versatile, with ample power supply to support refrigerated delivery services; and will have running costs equivalent to that of EVs when using ethanol-water blends.

In addition, the e-Bio Fuel-Cell car’s distinct electric-drive features — including silent drive, linear start-up and brisk acceleration — allow users to enjoy the typical benefits of a pure electric vehicle (EV).

Because of their fuel-flexibility (i.e., no need for a dedicated hydrogen production and refueling infrastructure), solid oxide fuel cells have been of interest for transportation applications—especially as APUs or in lower power situations, for years.

Delphi, for example, began work on SOFC technologies in 1998.

Researchers at Washington State University, with colleagues at Kyung Hee University and Boeing Commercial Airplanes, have been developing liquid hydrocarbon/oxygenated hydrocarbon-fueled solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) for aviation (the “more electric” airplane) and other transportation applications, such as in cars.

In January, Honda R&D signed a joint development agreement with SOFC company Ceres Power st) to develop SOFC stacks for power equipment applications, but not for automotive use.

SOFC systems run at higher temperatures than the PEM fuel cells typically currently used in automotive applications so Nissan engineers need to develop a high performance, low cost insulation; robust balance-of-plant components; and fast startup and thermal cycling.

Nissan said that in the future, the e-Bio Fuel-Cell will become even more user-friendly. Ethanol-blended water is easier and safer to handle than most other fuels. As this will remove limits on creating a totally new infrastructure, it has great potential for market growth.


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