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Renault to Show On-Board Multi-Fuel Reformer with Fuel Cell

Renault’s fuel-cell platform with on-board multi-fuel reformer. Click to enlarge.

Renault will present an update on its work on fuel-cell vehicles at the 16th World Hydrogen Energy Conference in Lyons, France, which opens today.

Renault is focusing on the development of an on-board multi-fuel reformer to produce the hydrogen to power the fuel cell, thereby sidestepping the current problems with very high-pressure, cryogenic, or materials-based storage, as well as the need for a hydrogen distribution network.

Renault, Nissan and Nuvera Fuel Cells have been working together on this solution since 2002.

The chemical processes of the on-board reformer. Click to enlarge.

The on-board reformer transforms the liquid fuel into reformate, a hydrogen-rich gas that can be used to supply the fuel cell. The process has six distinct stages with five primary systems: a burner, an autothermal reformer (ATR), a high temperature shift (HTS) system, a preferential oxidation system (PROX), and a low temperature shift (LTS) system.

First, the cracking phase breaks down the long hydrocarbon molecule chains into simpler molecules: hydrogen, water, carbon, etc. In the next five stages, the gas is purified until it is ready for use with the 45 kW fuel cell.

The reformate emerges with about 40% H2 and 100 ppm CO, the rest being water, CO2 and nitrogen. At maximum power output, the hydrogen production rate is about 1.4 g/second, according to Renault.

The reformer can run on gasoline, diesel and ethanol, so Renault had to design a special multi-fuel tank for all three. Trenault chose the multi-fuel approach to reduce concerns about the future availability of hydrocarbons. It also means that motorists can choose the cheapest available type of fuel.

When Renault announced its Renault Commitment 2009 in February, it confirmed that the group was preparing a broad range of alternative technologies, of which the fuel cell is just one part. (Earlier post.)



I must have missed something;

why would you use ethanol and such to produce hydrogen while you can run on this fuel directly. Somewhere down the road a lot of energy must be lost.

So now the car makers are designing cars that run on hydrogen that was created using electricity from the powerplant (why not use that electricity directly without loss ?!) and hydrogen that is created using other fuel resources (why not using alternative fuel sources directly, such as ethanol).

If all car makers stopped coming up with all those different approaches and concentrated collectively on the most efficient and clean way of driving our vehicles (I think that is electric cars , with electricity from clean power sources, like solar, water, wind), the world would benefit tremendously.

I understand that each brand wants to push it's own solution as THE solution, to get rich on patents and such, but for the environment and energy challenge of the future it makes NO sense.



They are probably trying to hail this as a stepping stone.


The French are still a bit different. They just need to find a different way for a certain problem.

Does anybody know, how long they expect to R&D? Am I totally wrong, when I guess the project should be ready within the next 30 years?



"If all car makers stopped coming up with all those different approaches and concentrated collectively on the most efficient and clean way of driving our vehicles"

We already have the most efficient and clean way: cycling :-)

Innovation is not brought by cooperation and decision, but by competition and selection. In the current phase it is inevitable that every car maker comes up with its own ideas. Keep 'em coming! May the fittest survive.


I think reforming liquid fuels is a good idea. Chrysler had the NECAR which reformed methanol into hydrogen for a fuel cell. Liquid fuels can be transported and stored like gasoline now.

Harvey D.

Diversity is positive by nature. Over-diversification of reseach resources can lead to waste of time and energies.

I must agree with 'joep' that the road to clean sustainable transportation is ELECTRICITY.

Much more resources should be used to enhance electric energy storage devices and to develop high efficiency, low cost, direct solar energy capture devices. (Wind turbines is another interesting clean natural energy capture device to be promoted but sun energy is more widespread)

The sun energy striking the globe is many times what we're using now and for the foreseeable future. It is free, sustainable and clean. Why not use it as the preferrence over all other types of energy. The basis technologies required are there but need to be improved. We should do it at a much faster pace.


As has been said 5000000000000000000000000 times before a fuell cell is more then twice as eff as an ice engine. This goes double for trying to make an ice engine that can handle multiple fuels.

Also if your a company that is looking at replacing all engine dev work with fuel cells being able to use a fuel cell with conventional fuels is a good idea.

Rafael Seidl

Reforming gasoline into hydrogen and then running that through a PEM is probably a less efficient use of the fuel than simply burning it in an ICE. NOx emissions will be near zero, but they are already low enough with a three-way catalyst above its light-off temperature. Evaoprative HC losses would be comparable to a regular ICE vehicle.

The cost of a complex on-board reformer would come on top of the fuel cell and electric drive train. Longevity is also an issue, as with many new technologies.

Note: there are actually at least five types of fuel cell, the low-temperature proton exchange membrane is just one of them.

Another, potentially promising one is the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) since it can accept a readily produced liquid fuel. It also operates at a higher temperature (150 deg C), leading to smaller radiators for heat rejection. Unfortunately, power density remains unsatisfactory and the catalyst prone to fouling:

Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) operate at 1000 deg C and can reform methane fuel into the required H2 using the rejected heat. This type is not presently considered suitable for mobile applications, though (low power density, poor dynamics).


Quote from Jan: "Innovation is not brought by co-operation and decision, but by competition and selection. In the current phase it is inevitable that every car maker comes up with its own ideas. Keep 'em coming! May the fittest survive."

That I understand, but history has also proven that more often than not, competition results in a product that is the best marketed , or with the most (financial) weight behind it form companies/ institutions that have an interest and NOT always the best and/or most progressive.

For issues like the environment and our future I don't trust the market principles, because the best solutions are usually not the cheapest and need the most flexible attitude and collaboration from all that are involved (producers/ consumers). In other words; not competitive and deemed to die an early death.



To reinforce joep's point look at the well known battle between VHS and Betamax:

Betamax was a better format (picture quality, compactness) but VHS won the day because it was more financially feasible (Sony was very stingy with their licensing on Betamax).


Joep - The alternative to 'market principles' is for the government to mandate a technology. Right now, the way things are going, that would almost certainly be a hydrogen-based technology, most likely fuel cells. Now, I happen to like hydrogen, but that may not really be the best solution. I'd prefer to let the competitive market sort out the competing technologies - it may not give us the *absolute* best possible solution, but it will almost certainly give us a pretty good one.


Aagin as long as the car winds up reasonably priced all that will matter in the end is fuel econ and we dont know how many miles it gets per gallon of those fuels so we cant say if its a good idea great idea of bad idea. From what I do know about such onboard reformers its prolly a fair idea maybe even a rather good one.

Roger Pham

Wintermane, u r right w/r/t fuelcell car having twice the efficiency of an ICE car. This is because the ICE car runs at low throttle setting for most of the time, hence having ~16-20% efficiency typically, whereas an IC engine if runs at optimal power setting of between 50%-75% setting can get over 30% efficient for a gasoline engine, to 42% efficient for a diesel variety. However, a full hybrid like the Prius II is listed at Toyota's website as having 37% efficiency tank-to-wheel. A full-hybrid car has the engine running at optimal efficiency most of the time, then shut down in other mode, thus do not suffer from the low-efficiency mode of a conventional ICE vehicle. An ICE running on hydrogen can expect an additional 25% increase in efficiency, thus multiply 37% by 125% will get 46% efficiency, thus the PriusII running on H2 can rival the efficiency of the fuel cell car.
Renault's experiment with on-board reformer is meant to show: 1) a bridge from the fossil-based economy now, to the future hydrogen economy, AND 2) a way to overcome the poor range of H2 vehicle for long-distance driving. For local commuting, compressed H2 in 5000psi tank is OK and is good for ~100-mi range, thus low-cost renewable fuel usage, kinda like PHEV with overnight charge. For long-distance driving, fill up with liquid fuel in the same tank and use the reformer to produce H2. Synthetic liquid fuel would be more expensive and less efficient, but you don't go out-of-town very often. For those with frequent need for long-range driving, try a LH2 fuel tank (in the post-petroleum age). All this would only make sense if Renault has found a way to produce fuel cell cheaply and with high durability. Otherwise, stick with ICE-electric hybrid car, or with PHEV, IF battery technology will be competitive in the near future.


Competition is generally good, especially in a case like this. If you let the great and good pick a solution, they will probably get it wrong.
On Beta vs VHS, check out wikipedia on the subject. There was little to chose between the two in terms of quality, but VHS had 3 hour tapes and Beta had 1 hour, so when video rentals took off, VHS was way ahead. That would make up for a few extra lines of resolution.
A direct methanol reformer sounds like a good idea, if the numbers come out.


SOFC could be good if you have Vehicle to Grid. The problem with SOFC is temperature cycling,
so if you leave it running at a low level and connnect it to the grid when you park it, you can get credits.


Additionally, one should remember that anhydrous ethanol is required to run ethanol in an internal combustion engine. The dehydration part of the ethanol refining process is extremely energy intensive and costly. Aqueous ethanol, however, can be used just fine in an on board reformer thus saving the costs and energy losses of the dehydration process required for anhydrous ethanol.


E100 is nice for ICE and fuel cells, it is CO2 neutral and a good bridge fuel to cut down the use of oil.
Now, if we could just get some folks in the U.S. to modify their lifestyles, in order to use less energy.
(BTW..I am in the U.S. and was born here. I am just critical of some of our folks behavior, is all)

shaun mann

GM tried this years ago and gave up saying it was too complicated.

It isn't b/c the French are just trying to be different.

of course, 100ppm of CO would destroy any fuel cell, at least a few years ago it would, which is why GM said it was too complicated.



It's true that the market not always selects the best solution (VHS/Betamax, Windows/Mac, etc.). But what is the best solution? Technical superiority is not the only reason for a market to select a certain product.

You are right that governments must be involved. But I think they should do so only by influencing the selection process. By setting emission standards, by imposing taxes or giving tax breaks. And then let the market come up with the best solution.


Competition is the GREAT EQUALIZER -- YES it is true!! With renewalable fuels coming to market (Ethnol, bio-diesel, ect) the price fossil fuel will drop drmatically and all this innovation and investment in other ECO-FRIENDLY processes will dry right up (wind, solar, fuel cell, wave, ect, ect, ect). Gov't must keep the price of fossil fuels HIGH enough (tax?) in order for us to break our dependencey (habit) on fossil fuels or else the GREAT EQUALIZER will come back to bite us all.

tom deplume

Such complexity and it still generates CO and CO2 just like an ICE without the advantage of using the carbon's embodied energy. The spirit of Rube Goldberg is alive and well.


I think the key motivation here is that this vehicle can run on the existing fuel supply infrastructure. So the reformer + FC might not be optimal in some ways, but it is certainly optimal for deployment in the mid to near term. Renault doesn't control what big oil does or how fast it may or may not convert it's processes, tankers and fueling stations to some other source of energy. But Renault does know what exists now, and they know what emissions requirements they have to comply with in the future.


This is one of the advantages of the SOFC, it can not be contaminated by CO
because it uses CO as fuel. No need to use a gas shift reactor.

john galt

For an interesting anecdote to "competition" and the feasibility of electric cars, check out the movie, "Who Killed the Electric Car." It is pre-screening now, and will be released in theatres over the next few months. Competition--- GM, Chevron, and Exxon style, means buying patents and acquring ccompetitors and killing innovative products and ideas that threaten the status quo.


I must have missed something;
You missed the brainwashing. Hydrogen is the Great White Hope. Insteading of doing something TODAY, companies will point to hydrogen and say: Just wait a few years, we'll be ready, Honest!

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