Automotive

Nissan working on biofuel-powered solid oxide fuel-cell for 600 km of electric range

Nissan working on biofuel-powe...
The test bed being used for Nissan's solid oxide fuel cell
The test bed being used for Nissan's solid oxide fuel cell
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The test bed being used for Nissan's solid oxide fuel cell
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The test bed being used for Nissan's solid oxide fuel cell
Nissan's cost analysis for driving a car with the solid-oxide fuel cell
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Nissan's cost analysis for driving a car with the solid-oxide fuel cell
Biofuel can be created out of corn or sugar cane and other sources
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Biofuel can be created out of corn or sugar cane and other sources
Some of the powertrain options Nissan is assessing
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Some of the powertrain options Nissan is assessing
The inner workings of the solid oxide fuel-cell
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The inner workings of the solid oxide fuel-cell
A look at the chemistry inside the biofuel system
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A look at the chemistry inside the biofuel system

We're yet to find a car manufacturer that isn't working on some form of alternative powertrain solution. Heck, even Morgan is going hybrid. As a part of its quest for long range electric vehicles, Nissan is developing a solid oxide fuel cell car which turns bio-ethanol into electricity for battery powered motoring.

While the range limit on current electric cars is hovering around 500 km (311 mi), Nissan claims its solid oxide fuel-cell system offers up more than 600 km (373 mi) of driving. That puts it in the same realm as most petrol cars, but with the same silent startup, perky acceleration and linear throttle take up you get from pure EVs.

According to Nissan, when you run the fuel-cell car on a 55 percent water, 45 percent ethanol mix, running costs are only slightly higher than they would be in a regular EV, and around two-thirds less than you'd pay to run a petrol powered car.

This system also supports existing refueling infrastructure, rather than needing special pressurized tanks and unique valves like most hydrogen fuel-cell cars, or relying on the installation of charging networks.

The inner workings of the solid oxide fuel-cell
The inner workings of the solid oxide fuel-cell

So, how does it work? Well, the fuel cell uses a reformer to convert bio-ethanol into hydrogen. That hydrogen is then mixed with atmospheric air, and converted into electricity through the fuel cell, providing charge to the battery feeding the motor.

Nissan says the cycle of using bioethanol to power its cars is carbon neutral, with CO2 emissions being neutralized from the growing process of sugarcane making up the bio-fuel. That of course ignores the fossil fuels burned in processing and transporting the biofuel, not to mention the other problems associated with crop-based biofuel production, but that's a story for another day.

At the moment, this technology is under development. It joins the amorphous-silicon battery as a way for Nissan to potentially improve the range and relevance of electric vehicles.

Check out our gallery for some of Nissan's technical explainers on the chemistry of its fuel cell.

Source: Nissan

9 comments
Anthony Parkerwood
A petrol or doliesel feul cell would eleminste range anxiety.
watersworm
Neutral CO2 cycle production , "a story for another day "? UUUh No !
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
Ah, yes. Let's promote bioethanol, so more precious rainforests are slashed-and-burned in Brazil for growing sugarcane crops. Inevitably, it will compete for food crops in some way and raise food prices. Perfect for a developing country with a growing population.
Buellrider
Why bother working on systems that create more green house gases. Nissan needs to figure how to power it's cars more responsibly than this.
EcoLogical
SOFC's can typically use any hydrocarbon fuel (including methanol, ethanol, natural gas, propane-LPG, gasoline, diesel, ...) and due to their high operating temperature can also typically reform the hydrogen directly in the cell i.e. no separate reformer required. SOFC's makes perfect sense as range extenders!
Donn Taylor
"While the range limit on current electric cars is hovering around 500 km (311 mi)" if all electric cars were Tesla's, yeah. However, most electric cars OTHER than Tesla are still only getting around 70 or 80 miles at best (without any sort of booster system). If ALL electric cars being built today got around 311 miles, I'd go out and buy one today and park my gas burner. Let's not compare apples and lemons people nor make false statements. AND, let's not put more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
danBran
The statement "CO2 emissions being neutralized from the growing process of sugarcane" would only be correct if the cane pulp left over after extracting the sugar could be, somehow, sequestered. Typically the cane is composted, or in some cases burned which releases even more CO2
Derek Howe
Seems like a waste of time, money, and effort to me. Energy density in batteries is improving 5% per year, and that is happening without any big breakthroughs. If that Salty battery bath article that was posted yesterday is accurate, then battery degradation is all but eliminated. Which will vastly help with EV sales. BEV's are improving add a good rate, their is no need for this tech to exist.
icykel
Well the sugar industry could certainly do with a bit of optimism. Much better that sugar production ends up in vehicles than in humans, surely. Refined sugar is not an essential or indeed not a food but a pure energy. Already large tracts of very fertile land are used to produce sugar so the shift to a better use seems halfway reasonable to me.