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Volvo Cars starts development of fuel cell/on-board reformer range extending system for EVs

Volvo C30 DRIVe Electric. Click to enlarge.

Backed by research support from the Swedish Energy Agency, Volvo Cars is initiating development of a fuel cell system that can extend an electric car’s operating range . The aim is to have two prototype chassis based on the Volvo C30 DRIVe Electric ready for testing in everyday traffic in 2012.

Volvo Cars is working together with the company PowerCell Sweden AB on this project. In the first phase, a preliminary study is being conducted into a fuel cell range extender, consisting of a fuel cell with an on-board reformer—i.e., a version of the PowerCell Power Pac. The reformer converts a liquid fuel, in this case gasoline, to hydrogen reformate, which then fuels the stack.

The technology generates electricity completely without any emissions of carbon oxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx) and particles. Due to system efficiency, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are significantly reduced compared with a conventional vehicle, according to Volvo. The technology also can be adapted for renewable fuels.

In the next phase, pending support from the Swedish Energy Agency, Volvo Cars and PowerCell will produce two test cars based on the current Volvo C30 DRIVe Electric. Testing of the cars will begin in 2012.

This is an exciting expansion of our focus on electrification. Battery cost and size means that all-electric cars still have a relatively limited operating range. Fuel cells may be one way of extending the distance these cars can cover before they need to be recharged. What is more, the project gives us increased knowledge about fuel cells and hydrogen gas.

—Volvo Cars President and CEO Stefan Jacoby

This technology is expected to increase the electric car’s operating range by up to 250 kilometers (155 miles) in addition to the range provided by the car’s battery pack. The fuel cell industry expects that the cost efficiency will improve continuously through refined technology and large-scale production.

We have just taken the first steps and it is naturally too early to talk about market introduction of electric cars with Range Extenders. The industrial decision will come after we have learned more about fuel cells and the opportunities they offer.

—Stefan Jacoby

A PowerCell APU. The Click to enlarge.

PowerCell AB. PowerCell Sweden AB was founded as a joint venture between AB Volvo and Statoil ASA with the objective of bringing fuel cell and fuel converter technology to full commercialization. In 2009, Volvo Technology Transfer invested in the company, along with Midroc New Technology, Ocas Ventures and Fouriertransform. (Earlier post.)

PowerCell plans to supply its Power Generator (reformer plus fuel cell stack) to two main market segments in the transport industry, the Marine leisure and the Truck segment, as an APU.

PowerCell Sweden’s technology is based on two patented components: the fuel converter (reformer) and the PEM fuel cell stack. The autothermal reformer was originally developed by OWI (Oel Waerme Institut) in Aachen, while the PEM fuel cell was developed at Volvo. Currently available with up to 7 kW output, the next generation of the fuel cell, currently under development, will output up to 30 kW.



So they found a way to reduce mileage even more then in an ICE to prove it can be done. And, at a much higher price. God help us, When will Volvo use the money where it will do the most good...developing better batteries and more efficient electric drive and accessories.


Seems like you missed the point. A reformer would allow you to use just about any fuel, it creates H2 & CO2. The efficiencies of this system is far superior to mechanically converting fuel to electricity. Plus it is silent, unlike any of the other range extender options.
Volvo isn't the only one researching this area:


A promising approach. Potentially, both reformer and FC could be scaled to produce the power required using various types of fuels.

The battery back could also be scaled down to lower weight and cost.

Why the limited extended range. It should run as long as fuel is available? A larger fuel tank should provide improved extended range?

The short and mid-term question is, can the reformer + FC be ever produced at a competitive price? If so, this could be an interesting alternative.

Nick Lyons

Begs lots of questions:
* Power/weight ratio (power density)?
* Efficiency?
* Reliability (MTBF)?
* Durability/operating life?
* Cost?

Seems complex, but then turbo-charged, direct injection ICE + 6-speed transmission is complex too. Assuming higher-than-ICE thermal efficiency, positive answers to the above questions and multi-fuel capabililty, this could be a winner.


PEM is a dead horse, but flogging it makes for a great show.


I'll have a stationary one to provide baseload power from pipeline natural gas with heat recovery, but I don't think fuel cells will ever be cost effective range extenders compared to a small ICE. Range extenders themselves are only really needed until bateries can do 100+ miles and be charged at ~100kW


These people are looking to expand the FCV potential with traditional fossil fuel. But gasoline is the last fuel they should consider. A CNG tank would be a far cleaner option and it would address enviro AND domestic energy concerns.

Systems using gasoline for nearly any purpose are going to lose their investment appeal as EVs roll out. It is a politically incorrect fuel and will become more so.


well the point of this design is a truely flex fuel car.. anything from deisel to gasoline to veg oil to ethanol methanol to nat gas propane and so on. This is just the starting point.


Could be cost level realistic? If no 100 000 EUR per FC unit then might be possible. But for the moment the range extender is minor issue. Batter and PEM module is in infancy age.


Forget PEM, Solid Acid Cells, and low temp thin film SOFC are the future as they do not care about ~10% CO gas in the reformate this reduces the cost of the reformer drastically, and allows any hydrocarbon to be used for fuel, be it Alcohols(C2-C8),Methane,LPG,JP8&5(military applications),Jet A,Petrol,Gasoil,or even biooils that are ashless like pyrolysis oils even oxygenated ones since the resulting CO is fuel not a poison, and solid fuels such as micronized ashless coal or torrified biomass assuming you design a gasifier/reformer with a cyclone solid removal step. It is only a matter of time before those 2 cell tech catch up in $/kw to small scale gen sets at 60% HHV eff, Vs ~35% for otto ice n ~43% diesel ICE

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Really,it's a great information.Today's many automaker concentrate on electric cars. Which has been more advantage and very comfort than regular cars. Because electric cars is Eco-friendly.I think this project also start with electric trucks.i.e.Trucks for sale.Thanks for sharing such a nice information with us.

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