800-horsepower electric supercar hopes to usher in the methanol fuel cell age
Roland Gumpert, of Audi Quattro and Apollo fame, has put forth a supercar that solves the problem of limited electric range and slow charging. The 800-horsepower, all wheel drive Nathalie uses a cheaply refuellable methanol fuel cell to charge its batteries as you drive.
Looking uncomfortably close to a tricked-up Nissan GT-R, the Nathalie is a 2-door sports coupé with an electric motor at each wheel, a top power spec of 600 kW (800 hp) and a top speed in excess of 190 mph (306 km/h). It's got a chrome-moly tube frame, a carbon chassis, and plenty of aerodynamic bits for downforce. As with everything Gumpert's laid his hands on, it looks neat, with a youthful and sporty interior, and it goes like the clappers.
Electric vehicles are already highly capable and super practical for the vast majority of driving for most people, who generally do short, regular daily trips that can easily be managed with a full overnight battery top-up at home. For the much lower percentage of trips that take you farther afield, there are some cars that concentrate on offering you super-fast charging, and others that use petrol or diesel generators to charge the batteries as you drive and extend your range.
Gumpert isn't satisfied with either of these options, and wishes to put forth an alternative. The Nathalie thus cruises with a built-in methanol fuel cell. Methanol, says Gumpert, is a third the price of petrol, a ton easier to handle than hydrogen, and allows you to fill your car up in about three minutes to achieve an impressive range of around 530 miles (850-odd km) on a tank if you stick to around 50 miles per hour.
It's not burning the methanol, mind you – this fuel cell, built by Ser Energy, uses a simple chemical reaction to combine methanol and air to produce carbon dioxide, water and enough energy to effectively provide a consistent 5 kW of charging power to the battery.
Pardon our cynicism, but there are a few questionable items here. Where exactly are we buying methanol from? This car appears to depend on you being able to find methanol pumps along your journey, an infrastructure that will need to be built out for this idea to work. But who's going to invest the money to build it, given that this kind of range extension tech will become redundant the minute that battery technology finally pulls its socks up?
Then there's that 5 kilowatt charge rate. This car pounds out power at up to 600 kilowatts. Imagine using a hose to fill up a kiddie pool with a hole in the side that's 120 times the diameter of the hose. Even at a cruise, I find it difficult to believe the Nathalie would maintain 70 mph with a 5-kilowatt power output, so a 5-kilowatt trickle charge likely won't even stop the battery from going flat on the highway. The battery, by the way, is of indeterminate capacity at this point.
And finally, the fuel cell reaction produces CO2. Which is, I hardly need to state, one of the key things we're trying to get rid of by moving to electrics in the first place. Hydrogen, for all its many faults, at least doesn't fart carbon into the atmosphere.
The Nathalie looks like a very fun car, but unless we're missing some very key points, we can't see it ushering in the methanol age any time soon. Check out a couple of videos below, one of the fuel cell technology and the other of the Nathalie having fun around the Nürburgring.
Source: Roland Gumpert