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Ener1 Subsidiary Developing Fuel Cell Range Extender for Electric Vehicles

Although much of the attention on Ener1 has been focused on its lithium-ion battery subsidiary EnerDel (which last week signed a letter of intent for a potential long-term battery supply agreement with Fisker, earlier post), Chairman and CEO Charles Gassenheimer used the company’s quarterly earnings conference call also to highlight what he called the “excellent progress” being made at EnerFuel—Ener1’s fuel cell subsidiary—on fuel cell range extenders for plug-in hybrids.

EnerFuel is developing advanced high-temperature PEM fuel cell systems and is currently focused on developing a range extender for electric vehicles, said Daniel Betts, EnerFuel’s Principle Engineer and on the executive management team, on the conference call.

By the end of 2008, EnerFuel had successfully integrated a prototype high-temperature PEM fuel cell range extender into an EV, Betts said. The system incorporates a compact, lightweight, 3 kW fuel cell power system supporting the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery system. The present system is designed to extend the prototype vehicle’s driving range by 50%.

With the hydrogen content in the vehicle, the fuel cell is capable of delivering 20 kWh hours of energy into the battery throughout the course of a day. The total fuel cell system weighs 176 pounds (80 kg), including the hydrogen tank, power electronics and fuel cell stack. This prototype extended range EV is being used by the company for technology valuation and testing.

EnerFuel is concentrating its development on range-extending power systems with 3-15 kW. Many competitive fuel cell vehicle systems are targeting 30-100 kW from the stack, with less battery capacity.

Betts said that EnerFuel is aggressively pursuing funding from the federal government, and will be meeting in Washington today with the Department of Energy. EnerFuel is pursuing funding for three different applications, all based on the same technology platform: the simplified, mid-power, high-temperature PEM fuel cell coupled with Li-ion batteries.

...we believe replacing the gasoline internal combustion engine with a fuel cell for range extension is the most likely scenario for our next generation of range extended plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

...The other thing I would point out is that, because it’s a much smaller fuel cell system, you can reform the hydrogen in your garage. So, we really think we’re on a very, very exciting path. We think it’s extremely complementary to what we’re doing with EnerDel, which is why we chosen to highlight it.

—Charles Gassenheimer

Comments

Arne

The upcoming Tesla model S already has a maximum range of 300 miles, and people will soon realise that range is less important on a car that you charge on a daily basis. Add to that the increasing energy densities of batteries and dropping prices and the case for the range extender becomes weaker by the day.

Mannstein

Developing fuel cells to extend the range is an excellent move.

Once fuel cells have been sufficiently improved batteries might actually get retired.

HarveyD

Shouldn't a range extender be an option on all first generation BEVs, especially for those who have to travel longer distances or where quick charge stations are not available?

The technology used for the range extender should also be an option. A small, light weight, lower cost, high performance fuel cell may certainly be one of the favoured option for many.

In the longer term (2020-2030), quick charge, much higher performance batteries will supply enough range (500+ miles) and the space reserved for the fuel cell/ICE range extender could be used for more batteries (as another option) for very long distance, deep country, travellers.

kelly

“excellent progress” means what? costs what? will be released when? Many rumors have more detail.

oulisee

Why not standardize the range extenders and then rent them? Most people will rarely need one ... I would rather rent one a couple of times a year instead of paying for one.

SJC

Very efficient engines may come about for range extenders. Small, light and inexpensive, they are designed for one thing, to drive a large alternator at relatively fixed load and speed.

DaveD

I agree with SJC, I think that in the short term, efficient, inexpensive range extenders are the right answer.

I'm still not sure why Enerdel would pursue this unless they had some cost breakthrough that the rest of us are missing. Who cares how neat and cool they are, every practical fuel cell I've read about is incredibly expensive...and then you have the whole hydrogen mess!

What am I missing here?

ai_vin

"What am I missing here?"

Enerfuel has already invested a lot into developing fuel cells and hydrogen tech for other applications so it makes sense, for them, to extend the range of their product line with a range extender for BEVs.

Having said that; a fuel cell also makes sense as a BEV range extender in some applications. Even a small ICE generator has packaging issues in a car: They produce noise, heat, exhaust and leak oil, gas and fumes - you'll want to keep them outside of the passenger compartment. A small fuel cell could be made into something you can put into your trunk; the range extender truely becomes an option - the idea being you run your car as a pure BEV during your weekly commute and only plug this small fuel cell into your trunk for that long weekend drive.

danm

Great idea. i've been thinking of the BEV as the commuting vehicle and if any long trips would require renting an ICE vehicle. But if you could easily install some sort of range extender, you could drive your own vehicle, and only rent RE as needed.
Hopefully this will become a non-issue as batteries quickly improve.

ai_vin

Think of those small portable, breadbox-sized, Honda generators. You could rent one for a day trip to your cabin and then leave it there to power your cabin while you take your car to your secret fishing spot.

DaveD

Actually, I did have one other question:
I've seen some really good data on Methanol "direct fuel cells" and they seem to be about as efficient as hydrogen fuel cells. Methanol is certainly a lot easier to get and cheaper than hyrdrogen, so why isn't anybody pursuing this path if they want to do fuel cells?

Methanol is cheaper than ethanol even though ethanol gets subsidies. There must be some problem with methanol fuel cells but I haven't found it from my reading yet.

DaveD

@ai vin

I love the idea of being able to rent a fuel cell and put it in my trunk only when I need a long trip. And what you say about their investments in fuel cells makes sense if they are looking for a solution.

But even assuming they can overcome the cost problem through volume production and a rental model....the harder problem still remains. Where do I get the hydrogen infrastructure from? I don't know of many (actually any) places I can pull up and get some hydrogen. There a few place in California that I now sell hydrogen to campers who want to be "green" and use hydrogen rather than natural gas. I don't think they tell them that the hydrogen came from natural gas in the first place LOL

ai_vin

Actually it's one of the best kept secrets of hydrogen that 90% of Americas live within a fill-up range of an industrial hydrogen producer. Hydrogen, from (as you said) natural gas, is used to chemically modify just about everything we use.

oulisee

a propane fuel cell would be more practical.

DaveD

Wouldn't a propane fuel cell still require a relatively large propane storage unit? If people need to rent one and stick it in the trunk for a longer trip, I don't see that as very practical as that same trip probably requires luggage, etc.

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