Automotive

Nissan's prototype solid-oxide fuel cell prototype goes the distance in Brazil

Nissan's prototype solid-oxide...
Nissan has bet big on electric driving, and the SOFC is one way it's trying to make the tech more usable for regular commuters
Nissan has bet big on electric driving, and the SOFC is one way it's trying to make the tech more usable for regular commuters
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Nissan claims this e-NV200 can cover 600 km on a single tank
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Nissan claims this e-NV200 can cover 600 km on a single tank
The car was developed in Yokohama
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The car was developed in Yokohama
Nissan claims the system allows the benefits of electric driving, with the range of a gasoline car
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Nissan claims the system allows the benefits of electric driving, with the range of a gasoline car
Nissan will demonstrate the technology on Brazilian roads
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Nissan will demonstrate the technology on Brazilian roads
Nissan has bet big on electric driving, and the SOFC is one way it's trying to make the tech more usable for regular commuters
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Nissan has bet big on electric driving, and the SOFC is one way it's trying to make the tech more usable for regular commuters
The SOFC is slotted into the middle of an e-NV200
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The SOFC is slotted into the middle of an e-NV200
The SOFC converts bio-ethanol into hydrogen, and then hydrogen into electricity
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The SOFC converts bio-ethanol into hydrogen, and then hydrogen into electricity
The e-NV200 isn't pretty, but it's the test bed for a fascinating new powertrain
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The e-NV200 isn't pretty, but it's the test bed for a fascinating new powertrain
The car's fuel cell draws on a 30-l tank of bioethanol 
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The car's fuel cell draws on a 30-l tank of bioethanol 
The e-NV200 has a 24 kWh battery already, but the fuel cell is used to charge it
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The e-NV200 has a 24 kWh battery already, but the fuel cell is used to charge it
Fueling is handled by existing infrastructure
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Fueling is handled by existing infrastructure
No pressurized tanks are required to fuel the SOFC
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No pressurized tanks are required to fuel the SOFC
The cabin is standard Nissan 
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The cabin is standard Nissan 
A look at how the SOFC works
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A look at how the SOFC works
Solid oxide fuel-cell chemistry is a class we missed at school, but Nissan clearly was listening.
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Solid oxide fuel-cell chemistry is a class we missed at school, but Nissan clearly was listening.

Nissan has gone all-in on electric power in recent years, both when it comes to cars and the infrastructure needed to keep them going. Unfortunately, range anxiety and charge times mean EVs still have some way to go before they're a viable alternative to internal combustion, which is where fuel cells could hold an advantage. The latest car to test the waters with fuel-cell electric power is the e-NV200, which promises a range of 600 km from its new solid oxide fuel-cell.

Having announced this solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) in early June, Nissan is now demonstrating a prototype vehicle powered by the new system in Brazil alongside it's BladeGlider prototype as part of its Intelligent Mobility strategy. Properly realized, it opens the door to electric vehicles with ranges of more than 600 km (373 mi). By way of comparison, the current cap on pure EVs is around 500 km (311 mi) in ideal conditions.

Slotted into the floorpan of an e-NV200 van, the 5-kW solid oxide fuel-cell draws on a 30-liter (8 gal) tank of ethanol-blended water. Using a reformer, it converts this blend into hydrogen, which is mixed with atmospheric air and converted into electricity that is used to charge the car's 24-kWh battery, making for gasoline-aping range with silken electric acceleration.

A look at how the SOFC works
A look at how the SOFC works

According to Nissan, doing things this way has a few benefits. Fueling a pure hydrogen car involves pressurized tanks and a locking nozzle, whereas the solid oxide fuel-cell can be fueled using existing infrastructure. Compared to a pure EV, a system like Nissan's also means drivers are able to maintain their existing fueling habits, rather than having to wait long periods of time for the battery to charge.

Nissan also claims that using bioethanol is completely carbon neutral in terms of the carbon cycle because any emissions are neutralized by the growing process of sugarcane and corn from which the bioethanol is mainly sourced. That might be a slightly optimistic way of looking at things, as it ignores any fuel burned when the bioethanol is processed and transported. It also doesn't address the numerous other issues associated with crop-based biofuels.

"The e-Bio Fuel-Cell offers eco-friendly transportation and creates opportunities for regional energy production… all the while supporting the existing infrastructure," says Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. "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 will test the fuel cell prototype on Brazilian roads in the coming months and it can be seen in action in the video below.

Source: Nissan UK

Nissan unveils world's first Solid-Oxide Fuel Cell vehicle

6 comments
WilliamStockwell
My question would be, does a 5Kw fuel cell and 24kwh battery get you that range (373 mi) under conditions where that range is important - going 70mph down an interstate 5 hours straight - I like the concept of using a SOFC because it negates the necessity of 10,000psi compressed hydrogen tanks and the problems of integrating pure hydrogen infrastructure with what we have now but the problem has always been that SOFCs have had poor power density.
habakak
Fail. Crop-based biofuels is not sustainable - imagine the quantities needed and what it will do to food prices. Too complex. You still need a 24kwh battery. I'm sure this cost more than a Tesla Model S (although the Model S has some economies of scale advantage but even without that it contains much more complexity). The Japanese are always late to the game. Late to turbos (besides some Mitsus and Subarus and off course Godzilla, the Japs are only NOW starting to embrace turbos). And they are late to the BEV game too. Really have no like for Japanese cars. Boring and soulless.
EcoLogical
Excellent article, and it makes sense to introduce Ethanol SOFCs in Brazil where they've been using mainly bio-Ethanol since the 1970's. Does anyone remember the Oil Embargo in 1974? That's when Brazil switched from fossil fuels! WilliamStockwell, the SOFC power density doesn't matter since the instantaneous power is provided by the Li-ion battery. One of the upcoming 200 mile (325 km) range smaller cars (Bolt, Tesla 3, 2018 Leaf...) will require about 10 kW (13.4 hp) average power to propel it at 100 kph (62 mph) on the interstate. Therefore if the 5 kW SOFC is turned on and the battery is fully charged when freeway driving starts, the car's range will be doubled (400 mile - 650 km) before the Li-ion battery is fully depleted. At 70 mph (113 kph) it may not be quite as far. But then, how often can you drive at 70 mph for 5 hours straight without slowing down or stopping for a restroom break or snack? Meanwhile the SOFC will still be charging at 5 kW and regaining that lost range due to speed!
TonyStolz
EVs are a better solution. The simplicity of BEV, much lower fuel cost, and incredible power can't be beat! Recharging time as an issue is a myth as anyone who actually owns an EV will attest. EVs refuel when you are not using them and Superchargers are plenty fast enough! I leave home with a full tank every day. I now think of ICE age cars and their refuelling paradigm as being less convenient to refuel now that I've lived with a Tesla.
GWA111
Ok, 600km per fuel cell. Question 1/ how much will a replacement cell cost? Question 2/ Where will these be available from? From an engineering view, I can imagine car manufacturers having their own 'patented' connection/coupling set up. in other words, governments need to step in early to ensure cross compatibility otherwise this will become a complete and confusing mess trying to find a way to refuel. Question 3/ Define 'ideal' conditions
Don Duncan
GWA111: "...govt. needs to step in early..."??? What govt. agency do you work for? Only blind faith in rulers or extreme prejudice based on personal profit could lead someone to suggest that govt. can improve on market forces. Govt. is not the solution; it is the problem. "What will a replacement cell cost?" Good question. Next, what is its life span? First ethanol was the future fuel, then not so much, now a second life. How ironic!