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La Poste testing hydrogen fuel cell range extenders in Renault Kangoo Z.E. mail delivery vehicles

Symbio ALP-5 range extender. Click to enlarge.

The Franche-Comté region and La Poste (the French postal service) are testing hydrogen fuel cell range extender kits from Symbio FCell in three Renault Kangoo Z.E. electric mail delivery vehicles under real working conditions. This system is expected to double the range of the electric cars used for postal delivery.

The three Kangoos Z.E.s with fuel cell range extenders (HyKangoos) will be deployed in the first quarter of 2014 on mail delivery platforms. These vehicles, with a combination of a hydrogen fuel cell and batteries, offer an extended range that performs under demanding conditions: mail routes of 100 km (62 miles) or more through the cold, hilly and mountainous terrain. (The Franche-Comté region borders on Switzerland, with the Vosges mountains to the north and the Jura to the south.)

HyKangoo. Click to enlarge.

This series of tests aims to demonstrate the advantages of the hydrogen fuel cell solution and verify that the extended range electric vehicles are practically the same as a diesel in terms of availability, flexibility and autonomy.

The Symbio FCell range extender solution is based on a modular system and ranges from 5 kW to 20 kW (based on 5 kW stacks). This modular system reduces production costs and address the power requirement portfolio of diverse vehicle markers. The Symbio FCell offer includes standard CAN-Bus and electrical interfaces, cooling output and maintenance software.

The range extender systems are adapted to the specifications of each battery-powered vehicle model, making this a non-intrusive, integrated hybridization solution.

The HyKangoo features an ALP-10 fuel cell stack, along with a 38-liter hydrogen tank. Average fuel consumption at full power is 0.3 kg/h.

Testing will take place under the auspices of the FCellSYS platform in order to assure accurate and independent data collection and maintain objectivity concerning solution relevance. FCellSYS, created by the UTBM with the help of the LITEN Institute at the CEA, specializes in measuring, testing and supporting the development of hydrogen fuel cell systems that are reliable under extreme conditions (cold, vibration, etc.).

The fuel cell solution improves winter working conditions for postal workers by providing better heating and defogging without impacting battery performance. In addition, it makes replacing the diesel vehicles that are used today for longer routes possible. This will significantly improve our level of global CO2 emissions.

—Jean-François Courtoy, Industrial Director at La Poste in Franche Comté

La Poste has targeted a 30% CO2 reduction target per household served between 2008 and 2018.

The project is certified by the competitiveness cluster Pôle Vehicle of the Future and co-financed by the European regional development Fund (ERDF), the Franche-Comté Regional Council, the Belfort Territory General Council, the Belfort Urban Community and the Greater Dole Urban Community.

Our role is to assess and facilitate development, but also to encourage the useful application of this breakthrough technology by citizens, entrepreneurs and policy makers,” says Florent Petit, in charge of project management and Director at the UTBM (Belfort-Montbéliard University of Technology, a part of the FCellSYS platform, in collaboration with the LITEN Institute at the CEA - the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission).

New bipolar plates. CEA-Liten, in collaboration with Symbio FCell, a leading French specialist in hydrogen fuel cell systems and sustainable mobility, developed a new generation of bipolar plates for fuel cells. The new plates are designed for mobility and transportation applications, and adapted to allow for accelerated hydrogen fuel cell industrialization.

The new plates enable an increase in intrinsic performance, a reduction of almost 50% in the volume of complete fuel cell systems, a reduction in the amount of precious metals used in catalysis and an assembly process adapted to industrial mass production. This new generation offers a performance of 2.9 kW per liter, on par with the best available technologies in the field.

The bipolar plates in hydrogen fuel cells regulate gas and water circulation as well as the collection of electrical current. Plate design has always been a critical element in fuel cell and complete system performance. The new plates, in combination with electrode material optimization, lead to a cell that has fewer parts and is twice as compact at similar output levels. Cell assembly is also simplified, lowering the cost of mass production by more than 50%.

France’s Office of Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA) is a public research organization working in four main areas: low-carbon energy; information and health care technologies; Very Large Research Infrastructures (TGIR); and defense and global security.

As a part of the technological research division, CEA Tech, the CEA-Liten (Laboratory for Innovation in New Energy Technologies and Nanomaterials) institute located principally in Grenoble and Chambery (INES) is a leading European research center for new energy technologies.



This is a cracking combination.
Batteries have a tough time in cold weather.
The process heat from the fuel cell deals with this nicely, as well as of course providing more range.

The system is inherently simpler than trying to stick an ICE on an electric car, and has zero pollution at point of use.
This is especially important in chilly mountain areas, as a diesel would not be operating with optimum efficiency, and would pollute even worse than usual, with partially burnt fuel etc.


A good area and task to test combo FC/BEVÉ

Brent Jatko

Great points raised by both commenters. I have nothing to add except to wish Symbio luck.


"..a leading French specialist in hydrogen fuel cell systems and sustainable mobility.."

Sustainable mobility folks, that is what it is about. This is such an obvious solution to a present need, I wonder why it was not done years ago.

Dave R

A small 10 kW FC used as a range extender would be great for most people. If the tank held 3 kG of hydrogen that should extend your range 100-150 miles which would bring your total range up to 170-220 miles with your typical 70mi EV.

Fueling infrastructure remains an issue, but one would hopefully not need the FC most of the time except for long trips so as long as there is a fueling station along most major thoroughfares it wouldn't be a big deal. Include a QC station at the H2 station so you can top off both "tanks" at the same time for maximum efficiency.

This should be more energy efficient overall than relying on the FC for daily operations as you will still use grid electricity (hopefully renewable) for the majority of your motive power.


@Dave R:
The RE on this is probably a bit small for general use, and they get away with it because this is a utility vehicle, not one built primarily for driving pleasure.
The fundamental system should work fine on other vehicles though, perhaps with 25kw or so on tap from the RE when prices have dropped.

As you note, it would mean minimal hydrogen infrastructure, just along the highways instead of a dense network for city driving.

As I said above, the use of heat from the fuel stack means that heating is easier.

The whole vehicle will be much lighter than batteries with anything like current energy densities can manage for equivalent range, and increasing density is proving a tough nut to crack, as the recent troubles at Envia have shown.

ATM though it is at least as efficient to run a fuel cell as to use power from the grid at present US efficiencies and transmission losses, although of course this does not apply to solar power generated close to where you live - available during the day only though.
Storing solar to charge a car at night adds a whole other level of cost, and even energy loss, to charge and discharge the storage battery which is not a free ride.

One way or another though, details of how they are combined aside, it is great to be able to mix and match batteries and fuel cells - they really do go together well.


This FC/Battery combo (or BEV with and FC range extender) would be ideal in our cold area where we have huge hydro electricity surpluses 16+ hours a day, to charge batteries and make H2.

A small 15 to 25 kWh battery pack should be enough to got to work and back, specially if work place charging is available.

Installing H2 stations every 50 miles or so, starting with major highways, would not be a major challenge. Our hydro electricity sole supplier, with $3.5+ B/year profit could finance, install and operate the H2 stations with their 2000 surplus staff i.e. (750 from the closed Nuke plant + 1000 with the smart meters program + 500 from plain over staff). If our politicians has more vision they would start this program soon?


It is a nice idea, you get these HyKangoo and other similar designs out running and racking up the stats, you could create an interest.

People are price sensitive and look for reliability, they like new technology but you first. They will not risk a major expenditure on something that will be worth much less in 5 years.

This is why the fuel cell idea is good, the battery packs could last longer. If the fuel cells last and fuel is available they might consider it. Honda had a refueling station in the garage for the Clarity, that might do for now.


"The new plates, in combination with electrode material optimization, lead to a cell that has fewer parts and is twice as compact at similar output levels. Cell assembly is also simplified, lowering the cost of mass production by more than 50%."
Sounds promising, but as usual they do not disclose the retail price. The Panasonic 750 watt fuel cell micro chp retails for $22,000 which includes say $2000 for installation plus a large hot water tank & back-up gas burner.
If Nissan-Renault can get the retail price down to $1000 per kw, the 5kw unit would be a$5000 option on a Zoe or Leaf. During winter driving, the fuel cell could run for the whole journey to provide (waste) heat, so an hour's drive would add another 5kWh to the range before the car goes into turtle mode. That might be enough to cater for an unexpected detour or wrong turn.


The 5kw is electrical output, not including heat output, which will come 'free'.
This means that the effective range on the vehicle will be increased by a heck of a lot more than 5kwh, both because the heating is taken care of and because presumably they will engineer it so that the heat from the fuel cell keeps the battery at nearer optimum temperature.

The idea that the run only takes an hour is also incorrect, as it will be out there for several hours.

Roughly speaking in very cold weather a BEV's range halves.
I would expect this to take that loss down to something approaching zero, although of course in addition to electricity consumed hydrogen will be used, so it is not a freebie.


H2 could be made, off peak e-consumption hours and stored locally, i.e. when very low cost clean hydro power (and other sources) is available.

The initial early generation local H2 producing machines do not have to have very high efficiency when power cost is very low. Second and third generation machines would certainly do better.

Keeping passengers and battery pack warm, with free heat from the FC unit, is a worthwhile asset in many places.

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