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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.



If this is practical, it is very good.
It should be possible to add water+ethanol pumps to existing fuel stations without too much fuss.
Also, you could have a moderate sized battery (say 10 kwH) and plug it in as well if that made sense.
Plus, they would be excellent in very cold places (assuming you can get the stack warm quickly enough).
The advantage over batteries is that you can get great range without a battery sized for occasional long runs.
The advantage over H2 is that you have an easy to handle liquid fuel that you can (have to) make from biomass.


Ethanol is easily made from ethylene and water:

C2H4 + H2O <-> C2H5OH

I understand that this is the usual industrial method for making ethanol.  Like hydrogen, an ethanol economy would get most of its energy from fossil fuels.


If the onboard reformer and essential accessories can be made small enough, this could become a good replacement for larger ICEVs such as large trailer trucks and buses.

How will efficiency and pollution compare with current diesel units?

It should be easy enough to supply the required Ethanol stations.


Producing and distributing clean 100% bioethanol should be possible.

When used as feedstock (via an onboard reformer) for SOFCs, the GHG and pollution created should be very low.

Current technology, very quick charge/discharge batteries, could be used as a buffer for better acceleration and energy recovery.

If Nissan gets this to market with good reliability and reasonable cost, it is the death knell for H2.

EP> Like hydrogen, an ethanol economy would get most of its energy from fossil fuels.

I thought Brazil got its ethanol from sugarcane?


Very little of the world is like Brazil, and Brazil's ability to export both ethanol and petroleum is due both to high domestic production and to very low per-capita domestic consumption—Brazil is a poor country with a low standard of living.

If the USA had the same per-capita petroleum consumption as Brazil, it would be an exporter too.


im interrested to buy used in 2022. A little versa ethanol fuelcell can be cheap to run.

Maybe this is the economic rescue opportunity Puerto Rico is looking for.

Seriously. Most of the south could benefit too.


Honestly?  Puerto Rico is hopeless; it would quickly devolve to Haiti if it was cut loose, and it ought to be.


It all comes down to costs - how much over a BEV will this cost and where can you actually buy the fuel for the cars ?

Let's say Nissan bring these out on the 1st Jan 2020, then what?
They will have to get a string of refuelling stations around the areas where they plan to sell them (say Japan).

Japan isn't ideal as you havn't the space to make bioethanol, but it is near the source of origin and the government might give grants.

It also depends on how much more efficient it is than an ICE burning E85 - if there isn't much in it, there isn't much point in using them.

So - lots of questions requiring numbers in the answers.

Henry Gibson

Maize Ethanol never was a net zero CO2 fuel as it takes much fossil fuel to plant grow and harvest and process it with a US government stated gain of only 130 units or less of energy out for fossil fuel energy in. The price of maize in Mexico for low income people went much higher when much grain was diverted to ethanol.

All new vehicles should be hybrids that can save up to half the fuel or even more. Any automobile engine efficiency can be increased with simple hybrid technology. Small electric vehicles with rescue battery charger engines can be used for most town driving. ..HG..


Ethanol is a far better carrier of energy than pressurized hydrogen. Ethanol can be produced in many ways. One alternative is using sunlight, CO2 and bacteria.

Sugarcane used to be the main crop in Puerto Rico. It's also grown in the deep south US. It's much more efficient than corn.

I'm not suggesting political change in PR. I'm suggesting that robust demand for sugarcane could put fields and workers that are now idle to work. It could also help Hawaii, where once productive sugarcane fields now lie fallow.


USA is fortunate with enough unused land to progressively produce enough bioethanol (from various feed stocks) for 25 to 50+ million SOFC bio fuel cell vehicles by 2030/2035 or so.

Clean bio ethanol could become a worthwhile export.

This (and many other local products) could make 'America Great Again'?

A few more (million) Mexican immigrants could help to produce low cost various bio-ethanol feed stocks, as they already do with fruits and vegetables etc?


From the diagram above, I estimate this biohydrogen system gives 100% greater range than an equivalent Dalton mass of gasoline, and is the only way ethanol can compete on mileage with gasoline.

Very attractive is that this system does not use dry (anhydrous) ethanol, which is an added energy expense at the distillery. Add together some new fermentation techniques, such as the addition of KOH/KCl to the fermentate (a 60% increase of ethanol production) and you really could have sustainable fuel in parts of the world.

Harvey, if Trump gets elected, 10 million Mexicans and South Americans will be exiting to the south and another 10 million Americans will be exiting to the North.

Halifax said they'd leave the porch light on for us.


Halifax also said to bring a sleeping bag and a pillow, because the motels are already booked and they'll have to put you up in hay barns and fish canneries.


@Kalendjay, what is a dalton mass?
How is it different from normal mass?


William Stockwell

I've advocated for the use of SOFCs and biofuels for a long time as a range extender for EVs but SOFCs had some serious problems to over come - relatively low power density, high operating temperatures, cost, and potential durability problems in an automotive environment- Nissan doesn't really get into how any of these problems were solved in this press release.

No one has mentioned yet that this is impressive validation of SJC's position on the topic, so I will. Kudos SJC!


This is a very smart move by Nissan. H2 is not the way to go for cars at this time and perhaps never.
Renewable liquid fuels such as ethanol can slot into the existing distribution system much easier than compressed hydrogen and are far more welcome in my car. Plug in hybrids using a renewable fuel battery charger have much to recommend them too; no range anxiety and you can still drive to work the next day if the power was out all night.
Ethanol produced from sugar cane or waste results in a very worthwhile ratio of input/output. Corn production returns about half as much again as you put in so is not worth the effort.
I hope they succeed. Fuel cell or ICE; liquid alcohols are a good option.


Many of our politicians would be filled with joy, but your surplus Mexicans should cross the border without their machine guns?

Of course, we would not ask for passeports and/or ID Cards from Mexico or USA. We would give them brand new ones.

OTOH, we may have to reduce the number of migrants from the Middle-East, Haiti and Africa. Why not.

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