Automotive

800-horsepower electric supercar hopes to usher in the methanol fuel cell age

800-horsepower electric superc...
The Nathalie electric supercar uses a methanol fuel cell as a range extender
The Nathalie electric supercar uses a methanol fuel cell as a range extender
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The Nathalie on display in Geneva
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The Nathalie on display in Geneva
The Nathalie's interior: not quite as nice as it looks in the press shots
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The Nathalie's interior: not quite as nice as it looks in the press shots
The Nathalie Race made its debut in Geneva
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The Nathalie Race made its debut in Geneva
The Nathalie Race from the rear
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The Nathalie Race from the rear
The Nathalie's interior and touch screens
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The Nathalie's interior and touch screens
The Nathalie's sporty interior
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The Nathalie's sporty interior
The Nathalie electric supercar uses a methanol fuel cell as a range extender
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The Nathalie electric supercar uses a methanol fuel cell as a range extender
LED taillights
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LED taillights
Aggressive front stance
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Aggressive front stance
Aerodynamic touches underneath
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Aerodynamic touches underneath
Roland Gumpert's Nathalie in side profile
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Roland Gumpert's Nathalie in side profile
Gumpert hopes the Nathalie will usher in the age of the methanol fuel cell EV. We're not so sure.
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Gumpert hopes the Nathalie will usher in the age of the methanol fuel cell EV. We're not so sure.

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.

Roland Gumpert's Nathalie in side profile
Roland Gumpert's Nathalie in side profile

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.

Gumpert hopes the Nathalie will usher in the age of the methanol fuel cell EV. We're not so sure.
Gumpert hopes the Nathalie will usher in the age of the methanol fuel cell EV. We're not so sure.

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

How does a methanol fuel cell work? | Gumpert Nathalie | Roland Gumpert

Gumpert Nathalie: Trackday 2018 @Nürburgring - OFFICIAL AFTERMOVIE | Roland Gumpert

16 comments
preferanonymous
Methanol and ethanol can be made easily from plants. There's no reason not to do this. Hydrogen production currently requires massive amounts of hydrocarbons, in addition to the pressurization problem. Who wants to drive around with a steel fuel tank holding 3500 psi ? The seals don't last. CO2 emissions by a fuel cell for an electric vehicle are the best the world will get to extend range. Even lithium air batteries are only 20% more effective. That's hardly 'pulling socks up'. Refuelling methanol is trivial -- it's a perfect replacement to E85 (15% ethanol gas). The refiners will love to provide it, and it's not as explosive. This is practically what the refiners are flaring off now. In Russia, Siberia is lit up at night by the stuff. Additionally, you can synthesize it. For the fools that think refineries should be 'put out of business', give up your phone, internet, and car and go live in a cave.
VincentWolf
Same old oil industry desperately trying to fool people into sticking with hydrocarbon diet
fred48
Without any battery configuration, a 5kw generator seems to be nothing more than a trickle charger if any moderately sized rechargeable battery comparable to the standard bearer, Teslas 90 kw lithium is used.
guzmanchinky
You nailed all of the downsides in the article. I'm surprised someone else didn't think through all that before spending a lot of money developing this admittedly very nice car...
mark00
The oil industry absolutely hates the idea of letting you charge your battery-powered electric vehicle with solar panels on your roof because it puts them out of their trillion dollar business. No need to buy diesel fuel, gasoline, methanol, compressed hydrogen or anything else from them. They already purchased the Republican Party, so expect even more hypocritical proposals from them to hurt American companies and people trying to promote clean energy and personal energy independence.
jakey1234
I also understand that one of the problems with a methanol fuel cell phone is that the methanol is not the normal methanol you buy. It has to be very pure and very free of water.
tim27
If you use an array of these higher strength Permanent Magnets' Generators to recharge your high energy & power batteries to propel your most efficient best VTOL Electric Jets Light Aircraft, Drone & BEV on go, as these flying Electric VTOL Jets could have gotten a much far longer range capabilities without needing to recharge at shorter range interval travel rightly, positively, truely & surely ok? With best wishes to the mission to electrifying all forms of mobility land, sea, air & space with this said technology without burning or consuming any fuel at all https://youtu.be/zRMHNfug7Ec
Martin Hone
Good comments, but no one has mentioned what is meant by a carbon fibre chassis and a chrome-moly steel frame.
Simon Redford
Methanol is a very good way to handle and store energy for fuel-cells. It can be blended with petrol and can run conventional car engines, so it also represents a good transition fuel. Yes it ‘farts CO2’, but a more sensible way of looking at it in a renewable future is that it ‘borrows CO2’ in a biomass cycle to manufacture methanol. Local CO2 emissions are not the issue! Most hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuels which ‘fart’ CO2 in vast quantities during production. A few other useful facts; methanol has an energy density (~18MJ/Litre) around half that of petrol (~35MJ/Litre) but has a high octane number which may give scope for higher efficiency in conventional engines. The energy density of methanol is an order of magnitude better than compressed hydrogen and is safer to handle than conventional fuels. Like hydrogen, methanol can be manufactured from natural gas or coal, but can also be efficiently produced from biomass. Methanol is actually a way of safely carrying hydrogen, but can be used directly in some fuel cells. Compressing hydrogen to get a realistic energy density (MJ/Litre) adds a further inefficiency in its production and use as a fuel. Conventional fuelling equipment can be used with methanol and provides rapid ‘charging’ equivalent to many MW compared to kW charging rates for electricity. The author rightly points out that the output of the fuel cell is low compared to the ridiculous peak power of this car. However, the goal seems to be range extension rather than complete replacement of charging. For economic driving you may achieve 0.2 kWh/mile, so a 5kW output is equivalent to adding 25 miles to range every hour of operation. For urban, stop-start driving this could be very significant and the heat from the fuel-cell could provide necessary cabin heating without using battery power. For open road driving, the fuel-cell effectively covers 25 mph of the total vehicle speed so considerably extending the range of the vehicle. I think the words, “but unless we're missing some very key points”, are relevant – time to take a serious look at more realistic ways of moving towards a renewable future.
JimFox
Ridiculous concept 100% trashed by this writer- well said, sir!