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UK government awards £598K for hydrogen fuel cell range extender with micro-bead H2 storage for BEVs

The UK Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) have awarded £598,000 (US$980,000) to micro-bead hydrogen storage company Cella Energy (earlier post) and its partners MIRA, Coventry University and Productiv to develop a hydrogen generation system to extend the range of battery electric vehicles. The award is part of the Low Carbon Vehicle Innovation Platform Integrated Delivery Programme 8 (IDP8) competition.

In an existing TSB-funded project called “Breakthrough in Energy Storage Technology,” Cella, MIRA, Unipart Eberspacher Exhaust Systems and Productiv are developing a 1 kW hydrogen generator using Cella Energy’s lightweight hydrogen storage material. The aim of this new project is to take this technology and scale it to a 5 kW unit to power a small electric vehicle produced by Microcab Ltd, a spinout company from Coventry University.

Cella Energy, itself a spin-off company from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK, is developing and commercializing a way to nanostructure and encapsulate complex chemical hydride materials to improve their performance, in terms of temperature of operation, adsorption and desorption kinetics, and to render them safe to handle in air. Currently, heating one gram of Cella’s pellets will produce one liter of hydrogen.

Cella’s materials are already performing at 9 wt% of hydrogen, which when packaged into systems, such as those for the battery replacement work or when used in vehicles, approach the US DOE’s 2017 target of 5.5 wt% hydrogen.

In the previous project; MIRA, Cella and Unipart Eberspacher Exhaust Systems packaged Cella’s material in cylindrical cartridges—about the size of a large marker pen—which can be handled safely and distributed cheaply. The partners then developed a system that seamlessly moves these cartridges from a magazine to a hot-cell where the hydrogen was released in a continuous process.

The aim of the project is to deal with battery EV range limitations using Cella Energy’s lightweight hydrogen storage material in tandem with a fuel cell to produce enough electrical energy to drive a car as far and as fast as a diesel- or gasoline-powered vehicle.

The low carbon vehicle group at Coventry University have many years of experience in the development of fuel cells vehicles. Using this technology we should be able to add at least 120 miles [193 km] to the range of our existing battery electric cars.

—Bernard Porter from Coventry University and Microcab

MIRA is a leading independent provider of research, product engineering and test services, primarily in support of the automotive industry. Productiv bridges the gap between small enterprises developing leading edge low carbon technology and large vehicle manufacturers.



This may become an alternative way to increase PHEVs range to match current ICEVs without the use of an ICE range extender.

A very small unit in a BEV could be enough to reduce range anxiety and extend BEVs range enough to meet most requirements.

BEVs and FCEVs may eventually be combined to produce a superior electrified vehicle?


The current FCV configurations call out a BEV with a FC generator used to charge the battery while underway. A true FCV would be directly driven by the FC without the battery buffer or a combination BEV and FC much like a parallel hybrid.


A FC range extender for a BEV is a good idea, but it needs to be more like 15-20 KW so you can drive on the Motorway at 100-120 KpH.

Otherwise it is a "limp home" RE (which is better than nothing), but not what you really want.

The Mazda 333 cc rotary range extender sounds like a much better idea. 100Kg, 20Kw all day (although it only has a 9L tank !)


All FC vehicles have a pretty substantial battery, usually at least 1.5kwh.
That is because fuel cells don't much like ramping output up and down swiftly, so it is much easier to provide for acceleration via a battery, not to mention energy storage in regen braking.
An FCEV can't be a parallel hybrid, as they only have and only use one electric motor, which doesn't care whether it is the fuel cell or the battery which provides the electrons.

Of course you can have more than one electric motor, is you want 4wd or in-wheel motors or such, but they still all accept power from the fuel cell and battery impartially.

That is why the engineering for a PHEV FCEV is far simpler than for a Volt or such, and why almost all the parts outside the fuel stack and ancillaries itself are exactly the same as in a BEV.

A fuel cell car is a fully electric one which just uses the far denser energy storage provided by hydrogen.


Yes, the Mazda 333 cc rotary ICE could make an excellent PHEV range extender but it is still using liquid fossil or bio fuels.

An equivalent capacity FC could also do the job, specially when on-board H2 storage is improved and when H2 stations will be installed in great numbers.

In both cases, on-board batteries or improved ultra caps will be used as buffers between the e-source and the e-motors to supply more acceleration power and to capture braking energy.

Roger Pham

A FCV is electrochemically still a BEV. The FC stack can be considered a "battery, a flow type of battery, with anode and cathode electrodes. The advantage is in the use of H2 at high efficiency and without emission. H2 is renewable synthetic fuel that can be synthesized with the least cost and the highest efficiency, due to its atomical and molecular simplicity. The reason that a synthetic chemical fuel is needed to store RE is that Lithium batteries are too expensive as means of seasonal energy storage in a massive scale.

A liquid-fuel PHEV is more advantageous than a FCV in the near term because one can refuel everywhere, and that liquid fuel (gasoline) is very energy dense, thus permitting a very small fuel tank, of perhaps 4-6 gallons for 300 miles. In the future when H2 stations will be everywhere, then FCV will be just as practical as PHEV, except for the fact that FCV may still require a bulky and heavy fuel tank, thus limiting internal space. If batteries (lithium...etc) can be made much more compact than they are now, then PHEV fueled by gasoline will still have an advantage over FCV due to higher internal space and lower weight.

Also, many people will still be afraid of Hydrogen and won't buy a FCV no matter how much reassurance of the superior safety of FCV vs. ICEV.

Alan Parker

That's rather a lot of money for my government to throw at this.


You can run the diesel cycle on hydrogen. Mazda rotaries run fine on hydrogen too.

Fuel cells aren't really necessary.


Aren't FCs more efficient than ICEs?

An FC + smaller e-storage (batteries or improved ultra caps) combo or FC PHEV could become a very clean running vehicle with range equivalent to current ICEVs?

With some 20 kWh of batteries it could also run mostly on electricity or home recharges and use H2 mostly for longer trips.

Granted, a small rotary genset could do the same.


My point is that a smaller battery + a small ICE range extender is a better bet than a large battery [IMO].

The leaf battery weighs 300 Kg,and is good for 120 miles (or so).
Now, replace this with a 200 Kg battery, and a 100 Kg range extender. Now, you can drive for say 280 miles, and refuel in 5 minutes (if you want to), anywhere.
But most of the time, you will be driving electric, probably 90% of the time. So the amount of gasoline you use per year will be very small indeed, but you have no range problems.

H2 might be cleaner than gasoline, but if you use very little gasoline, you can sleep safely.


If an ICE is run at its most efficient point and used as a generator yes it can be more efficient than automotive fuel cells.

SOFCs can get higher efficiencies but they're not a practical solution (future research and development may change that).

Bob Wallace

"If an ICE is run at its most efficient point and used as a generator yes it can be more efficient than automotive fuel cells."

Please put some numbers and links to that claim.

Bob Wallace

"My point is that a smaller battery + a small ICE range extender is a better bet than a large battery [IMO]."

Could be. It's going to come down to cost.

At this point we don't know where battery capacities will be five years from now. If battery capacity doubles or triples then sales of EVs are likely to take off and higher manufacturing levels should bring prices down much lower than they are now.

It's going to be cheaper to charge batteries than to fuel fuel cells. An EV with a ~200 mile range would offer little 'pause for charge' penalty on long trips.


It seems obvious that this would be the way to go. FCVs often have 100 kW fuel cells, if they can do the job with a smaller fuel cell and more batteries, this is the best configuration.

Now if they can find a way to not have high pressure hydrogen tanks, that would be better. An adsorbant or reforming methanol would be ways to do that. Mercedes had the NECAR designs that reformed methanol and worked well.

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