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Ener1 Subsidiary Developing Fuel Cell Range Extender for Electric Vehicles

12 May 2009

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

May 12, 2009 in Fuel Cells, Plug-ins | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)

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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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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?

"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.

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.

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.

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.

@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

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.

a propane fuel cell would be more practical.

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.

You'd also need to keep the propane tank in a well ventilated space, a trunk just would not do.

"..3 kW fuel cell power system...extend the prototype vehicle’s driving range by 50%."

This will not get you very far. It is what they have to get a bit more range out of the batteries. Obviously, if it takes 15kw to get you down the road at 60 mph, it will not do the trick.

Yet but that 50% was for the 'prototype vehicle' they were testing the system on. We don't know how much juice the car took in the first place and range is more about kWh than kW. So you could get more of a range extention by driving a car that takes very little energy to run on- http://evolution.loremo.com/ -or increase the range by storing more hydrogen onboard. I would think that if this system- http://www.switch2hydrogen.com/h2.htm -could give a Corvette a range of 350 miles a fuel cell Loremo should go from LA to Seattle.

They did a story on the Loremo on Future Cars HD. I was really impressed with the engineering that went into the design. Crash safety was one of the major goals as well as light weight. I agree, the weight factor is prime in getting EV range.

This sounds like a much better approach than the auto companies have been trying - and it has got to be way cheaper! I think I read that the fuel cells are already around $1,000/kW, not sure if that is real though. A 3kW fuel cell, with the battery for spikes in power, could easily run my home for days. I would definitely consider this, especially if I could really produce the hydrogen in my garage, as they are talking about. I think Honda was taking that approach a while ago. I am guessing they are talking about using natural gas to make the hydrogen, but it could also be made from a liquid fuel - that will be the best option in future! Then the car would truly be zero emissions. Nice!

This might work for the EV driver that can get to work, but has no charging to get them home. The 3 kw fuel cell just puts out while there and has enough energy stored in the batteries to get them home. In that case, it has a use.

DaveD,
I am a huge backer of methanol fuel cells. The storage problems of hydrogen are ridonkulous. That being said, the problem with methanol is that they put out energy quickly enough yet. They are stuck in portable electronics now as "fuel cell batteries" because they put a reasonable amount of power for those applications only. You can scale DMFCs to a large unit for a house, but it might only put out 250W continuously. (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13512_3-9838436-23.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20) A small (by today's standards) vehicle's power load, even averaged between acceleration and coasting, is around 10KW. A DMFC car would have to be charging the batteries all the time, even when parked, and the numbers would still be very close. Maybe some day. As I said, I remain a DMFC fan.

They may be able to get the DMFC up to 3 kw. I read about a new separator material that reduces methanol crossover dramatically. Methanol would be a lot easier to store than 10,000 psi hydrogen.

I'd like to know what the cost of a home reformer unit would be. It's a reformer and a compressor - all in packaging and installation that will need to pass various residential safety standards.

I think Toyota has one in their Irvine HQ - don't know the energy source though.

Sulleny last I heard the home reformer gizmo the sell went down in cost by a factor of 3. But remember japan is VERY different from the us in that electric rates are sky high and so are gas prices but nat gas is actualy cheap.

I know some of my freinds are dealing with 45 even 55 cents per kwh utility bills and gas prices many times higher then in the us.. so a little reformer running of nat gas ca save HUGELY.

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