Nissan developing electric vehicles powered by ethanol-fueled solid oxide fuel cells; commercialization in 2020
Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. announced that it is currently researching and developing a Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered system using bio-ethanol as the on-board hydrogen source. The new e-Bio Fuel Cell system—a world-first for automotive use—features an an SOFC stack and an on-board reformer to convert 100% ethanol or ethanol-blended water (55% water, 45% ethanol) to hydrogen. SOFCs can utilize the reaction of multiple fuels, including ethanol and natural gas, with oxygen to produce electricity with high efficiency.
The e-Bio Fuel Cell system is suited for larger vehicles and longer ranges (~600 km, 373 miles) than battery-electric vehicles, Nissan said in a media briefing. The e-Bio Fuel Cell system can be run 24x7; features a quiet drive and short refueling time; is versatile, with ample power supply to support refrigerated delivery services; and will have running costs equivalent to that of EVs when using ethanol-water blends. Nissan said it planned commercialization for the technology in 2020.
|Nissan’s view of the market positioning of e-Bio Fuel Cell vehicles: larger vehicles and longer range. Nissan anticipates a cruising range of more than 600 km (373 miles). Click to enlarge.
In addition, the e-Bio Fuel-Cell car’s distinct electric-drive features—including silent drive, linear start-up and brisk acceleration—allow users to enjoy the recognized benefits of a pure electric vehicle (EV).
Because of their fuel-flexibility (i.e., no need for a dedicated hydrogen production and refueling infrastructure), solid oxide fuel cells have been of interest for transportation applications—especially as APUs or in lower power situations, for years. Delphi, for example, began work on SOFC technologies in 1998. A few other examples:
University of Maryland researchers have partnered with Redox Power Systems LLC to commercialize low-temperature solid oxide fuel cell (LT-SOFC) technology for distributed generation—and ultimately transportation—applications. (Earlier post.)
Researchers at Washington State University, with colleagues at Kyung Hee University and Boeing Commercial Airplanes, have been developing liquid hydrocarbon/oxygenated hydrocarbon-fueled solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) for aviation (the “more electric” airplane) and other transportation applications, such as in cars. (Earlier post.)
In January, Honda R&D signed a joint development agreement with SOFC company Ceres Power (earlier post) to develop SOFC stacks for power equipment applications, but not for automotive use. (Earlier post.)
SOFC systems pose a number of challenges, especially for automotive, however. Because they run at higher temperatures than the PEM fuel cells typically currently used in automotive applications, there is a need for high performance, low cost insulation; robust balance-of-plant components; and fast startup and thermal cycling.
Nissan’s e-Bio Fuel Cell system produces hydrogen from ethanol or ethanol-water blends through the on-board reformer. The main reaction for this is:
C2H5OH + 3H2O → 6H2 + 2CO2
The solid oxide fuel then generates electricity via the reaction of hydrogen with oxygen from the air. Oxygen ions move through the fuel cell’s electrolyte, generating power. A benefit of the high operating temperature is that a highly active catalyst is not necessary; no rare metals are needed. The system reuses the heat generated by that reaction for the reformer.
When power is generated in an SOFC system, CO2 is thus usually emitted. With the bio-ethanol system, CO2 emissions can be neutralized from the growing process of the feedstock and/or production process, allowing it to have a “Carbon-Neutral Cycle,” with nearly no CO2 increase whatsoever, Nissan suggested—especially depending upon region.
Nissan said that in the future, the e-Bio Fuel-Cell will become even more user-friendly. Ethanol-blended water is easier and safer to handle than most other fuels. As this will remove limits on creating a totally new infrastructure, it has great potential for market growth.
In pursuit of realizing a zero-emission and zero-fatality society for cars, Nissan continues to promote vehicle intelligence and electrification. Nissan’s brand promise of “Innovation That Excites” is delivered with “Nissan Intelligent Mobility”, which focuses on how cars are powered, driven and integrated into society through a more enjoyable driving experience.
Nissan said that the e-Bio Fuel-Cell will realize the concept of “Nissan Intelligent Power,” promoting greater efficiency and electrification of cars and the joys of driving, alongside battery EVs, such as the Nissan Leaf, Nissan e-NV200, and e-Power, which is equipped with an engine housing an exclusive large-capacity motor and power generator.