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Nissan unveils first Solid-Oxide Fuel Cell vehicle; fueled by ethanol, 600 km range

In Brazil, Nissan Motor revealed the first Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered prototype vehicle that runs on bio-ethanol electric power. Research and development of the e-Bio Fuel-Cell was announced by Nissan in June in Yokohama. (Earlier post.)

The e-Bio Fuel-Cell prototype vehicle, based on a Nissan e-NV200 electric van (earlier post), is equipped with a 5 kW SOFC that runs on 100% ethanol to charge a 24 kWh battery that enables a cruising range of more than 600 km (373 miles). Nissan will conduct further field tests on public roads in Brazil using the prototype.



The e-Bio Fuel-Cell offers the brisk acceleration and silent driving of an EV, along with its low-running costs, while boasting the driving range of a gasoline-engine vehicle.

The e-Bio Fuel-Cell offers eco-friendly transportation and creates opportunities for regional energy production…all the while supporting the existing infrastructure. 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. Without the need to create new infrastructure, it has great potential to drive market growth.

—Nissan president and CEO Carlos Ghosn

The fuel cell prototype forms part of Nissan’s ongoing commitment to the development of zero-emission vehicles. Nissan already sells the world’s highest-volume zero-emission car, the LEAF, and is pioneering Intelligent Mobility systems that will be deployed in a range of vehicles over coming years.

Bio-ethanol fuels currently are mainly sourced from sugarcane and corn. These fuels are widely available in countries in North and South America, which feature widely established infrastructure.

Due to the easy availability of ethanol and low combustibility of ethanol-blended water, the system is not heavily dependent or restricted by the existing charging infrastructure, making it easy to introduce to the market. In the future, people may only need to stop by small retail stores to buy fuel off the shelf.



Well, they have a heck of a lot of bulk to engineer out to make it practical as a passenger vehicle, but for buses or delivery vehicles they should be fine with much more modest further development.


Great idea but has to come to market fast. It will help farmer and villages a lot.


Yes, like they've always needed ways to convert food into vehicle fuel.  </sarcasm>

What would really improve matters is an SOFC which uses pyrolysis oil.  It can be made from woody biomass and requires no complex processing.


It looks pretty good to me, assuming they can miniaturize it.
It does not take very much ethanol and "they" are good at making ethanol from many sources, so why not just go with it.


Hi EP.

I think you are looking at it in the wrong light.

US gasoline contains around 10% ethanol.

Used in an SOFC it would be around twice as efficient with no more used than at present.

But this is a PHEV, not a pure FCEV, so it would only kick in for longer runs.

If around 5kw is all that is practical for a while, you are going to need a pretty meaty battery of the order of this 24 kwh pack to make it make sense or the pack would deplete before the RE could help much.

With only runs of over ~80 miles using any ethanol, you are in the right ball park to power all the US light vehicle fleet without using any more ethanol at all than at present.

As mahonj says, there are other sources than plants for ethanol anyway.

Finally, Nissan tell us that they could run this on many fuels:

'The breakthrough model, an all-new light–commercial vehicle, can rely on multiple fuels, including ethanol and natural gas, to produce high-efficiency electricity as a power source.'


But NG would be fossil fuels, which ain't good, right?

Well, with the NG used at ~50% efficiency, that is better than the grid average of around 40% for NG to electricity, so the bottom line is that this would be around as efficient as using NG powered electricity from the grid, or somewhat better, to power your car.

I think you are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.


There is also the nanoflowcell that is claim to be cheaper than recharging a battery with grid power.



Excellent points, Davemart.

Puerto Rico and Hawaii have large mothballed sugarcane industries. The US south also has a large sugarcane capability. All could use an agriculture employment boost.


Kudos to SJC for calling this some years ago.


This PHEV may become a game changer in the very near future if it can be mass produced at an interesting price.

A more powerful FC would extend the total range and the possibility to recharge and/or keep the batteries charged 'on the run' ?

Ethanol and/or other suitable biofuels can be produced in large quantities with non food feed stocks.


The hope would be to use a system such as this for the ethanol:

'In a paper in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, Professor Alexis Bell and postdoc Meenesh Singh describe the novel design of an integrated artificial photosynthetic system that continuously produces >90 wt% pure ethanol using a polycrystalline copper cathode and an IrO2 anode at a current density of 0.85 mA cm-2. The annual production rate of > 90 wt% ethanol using such a photosynthesis system operating at 10 mA cm-2 (12% solar-to-fuel (STF) efficiency) can be 15.27 million gallons per year per square kilometer, corresponding to 7% of the industrial ethanol production capacity of California, they suggest.'


As EP pointed out in the comments there, really you would want to be using something more earth abundant than iridium, but the more immediate problem is reducing the size of the SOFC from something the size of half a cow and increasing the output.

Still, I tend to prefer this sort of system to putting in huge battery packs, which is an approach that I am increasingly doubtful about.

Account Deleted

It does not work in real life. SOFCs are heavy and bulky and that is why they can only fit 5kw in it. That is not enough. You can hardly drive 1 hour on the highway before the 24kwh battery is depleted and then you need to wait 5 hours to charge it again every hour or 70 miles.

SOFCs are also really expensive and they take time to heat up before the make electricity. It is not like flipping a switch. But they are highly durable.

Electrek took note that Musk believe his Giga factory will hit less than 100 USD per kwh at the cell level by 2020. Now add 30 USD per kwh for packing, cooling and power electronics and we get 130 USD at the pack level by 2020 including a standard 25% gross profit margin. The model 3 will get a 55 kwh pack to do min 215 miles range enough for most because of home charging and supercharging. So battery cost is only 55*130 = 7150 USD. A 5kw SOFC cost more and it is only 1/5 of the needed power to keep a car like that going on the highway.



Henrik said:

'It does not work in real life. SOFCs are heavy and bulky and that is why they can only fit 5kw in it'

If your assumption is that they are incapable of improvement beyond this prototype then Nissan would hardly be bothering developing them.


And in this model which is heavy on the battery you would fast charge it as normal for a BEV when you stopped.

It is just that you could do go a lot longer before stopping.

But mainly, this is a prototype to try out the system, not a finished spec production model.


Seriously, 5 kW isn't a powerplant for a highway vehicle.  It's pretty good for a delivery truck that moves slowly and makes plenty of stops, though.  The waste heat would keep a cabin warm in all but the coldest conditions.

The real issue is the ethanol.  Harvey is deluded if he thinks cellulosic ethanol is either cheap or readily available, even now.  Cracking lignocellulose to fermentable sugars has never been easy and probably never will be.  However, thermal cracking to small molecules which are liquid at room temperature is quite simple to do even on an industrial scale.

You'd need a reformer of some type to convert pyrolysis oil to SOFC fuel gas, but the pyro oil can be made from almost anything on hand and requires no costly enzymes or other inputs, just heat.



This is Nissan's answer to the 1,000 or so Renault Kangoo delivery vehicles which are on the road using 5-10kw hydrogen RE's, and doing a grand job AFAIK.

Its obvious that the weight and bulk of this is no good for passenger cars, and equally obvious that Nissan would not bother developing it if this were anywhere remotely near the technical limits of the system.

As for the supply of ethanol,there is plenty of it ATM, and plenty cheap.

Not every possible objection has to be completely solved to make a pathway worth going down.


Flex fuel SOFCs do not have to be extra large and heavy. Small Unmanned Aerial vehicles (SUAV) with a GTOW of 30 lbs with 25 hours endurance have a very small 3.0 KW SOFC as a power plant.

SOFCs are up to 66% efficient, very quiet and can operate 7,000+ hours are about 700,000+ Km.

A 10 to 20 KW flex fuel SOFC could maintain the battery charged on a mid size PHEV for as long as fuel is available. That could be more than 700 Km. Excess heat could be used to keep the passenger cabin warm.


Bio ethanol will soon be produced in large quantities at competitive price. Beta Renewables plants is in production. A similar large plant will be in production in Florida in a few months. Singapore will soon have a similar plant.

By 2020/2025 or so, the world may have (XX) bio ethanol plants in operation and the price could be competitive with corn and sugar cane ethanol.


The road tax on the grain fuels will be astronomical. Our roads will fall to pieces if Cars are getting 100 miles to gallon of ethanol. great for reducing green house gases but will certainly change the federal highway fund that is broke now.
Fix one thing create a few more.


This appears on the surface to be a much more viable idea than compressed H2. Well done Nissan!

Its obvious that the weight and bulk of this is no good for passenger cars

I saw no mention of weight or bulk in this item, care to link/quote?

As for the supply of ethanol,there is plenty of it ATM, and plenty cheap.

The EtOH we've got consumes a very large fraction of the US maize crop to make a small fraction of the LDV fuel supply (and effectively none of the heating, HDV or aircraft fuel).  It is a farm-price support program, not an energy program.  Last, the people around the world who are starving or have starved (think Arab Spring food riots) because of spiking maize prices want a word with you.

Our roads will fall to pieces if Cars are getting 100 miles to gallon of ethanol.

No problem, shift the local roads to property taxes and major roads to truck weight taxes.


'I saw no mention of weight or bulk in this item, care to link/quote?'

??? Have a look at the diagrams above, and the video, which shows them installing the unit.

No, I don't have the exact figures, nor would I expect to in a prototype unit, but this is clearly both bulky and likely heavy.


Last time I checked, Maize/Corn was a useless food... where is the nutrition in feeding the poorest among us corn or rice for that matter? Beans and other crops are better for consumption.

Also, most of the harvest either gets dumped or given to third world countries as "aid" flooding their markets with free food stuffs preventing their farmers from making a living. (less farms = less local capability)

the problem with starvation in the world is not a food shortage, it is the availability. Most of our produced food is thrown away.

I'd say Ethanol is as good as anything, especially when there are 3rd generation sources coming on line soon. Its practically safe to handle, easy enough to make, and can use existing infrastructure.

if you have a 15kw stack, you could drive cross country basically with midsize cars. This could be inherently healthier too, I'd be concerned with CO but I don't know much at all of the exhaust gases.


Based on previous post it seems the fuel cell is supplied by ceres power. Ceres power produces a "Steel Cell" which they claim operates at a low temperature and low production cost? Guesstimate based on pictures and general info is that 5KW might occupy 30-50 litres of space. You think they could have squeezed in 20 kw so you could drive continuously?

When enough people switch to alternative fuel vehicles the tax system will need to change. Registration fees will likely be based on km. In the meantime Tesla, leaf and Chevy Volt owners are getting a free ride. Tax in Alberta is about 25 cents per litre which amounts to 3.5 cents per km if your F150 gets 14 L /100 km. The drivers will complain endlessly about the tax but never consider switching to a Camry.

It must be cheaper to burn corn to produce electricity or digest it and produce methane than to ferment it to produce ethanol.

My idea to save the starving children in Africa would be to force just about every land use not dedicated to growing staple foods to convert to corn and grain. That would include golf courses, front and back lawns, horse farms, cotton farms, flower farms and tobacco farms. Then US could dump all their surplus food into the developing world, although I've heard this practice has the affect of stifling local production.


Good catch.

It is the Ceres unit.

Here is the confirmation of the tie in with Nissan:

And here a video of how it works:

And here a pdf giving the technical details, weights and specs:

I can't for the life of me see how they are going to take out enough volume and weight to make this practical for passenger cars, although it could work for delivery vehicles and truck APUs.

Still, they are specifying passenger RE's, so perhaps there is more potential to increase power density than seems likely on first blush.



The exhausts should be fine, as nearly all the problems are caused by high temperature combustion producing nasties, and this is lower temperature and not combustion anyway..

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