System makes fuel cell vehicles more practical.
Nissan has developed a new Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) that runs on bio-ethanol instead of hydrogen.
Designed for use in future automobiles, the eco-friendly powertrain features an e-Bio Fuel Cell with an SOFC power generator. The latter fuel cell has been designed to work with a variety of fuels including ethanol and natural gas.
The energy generation process is a bit difficult to explain but Nissan says "The e-Bio Fuel Cell generates electricity through the SOFC (power generator) using bio-ethanol stored in the vehicle. The e-Bio Fuel Cell utilizes hydrogen transformed from fuel via a reformer and atmospheric oxygen, with the subsequent electrochemical reaction producing electricity to power the vehicle." In other words, bio-ethanol is converted into hydrogen by the reformer. The hydrogen is then fed to the fuel-cell stack which produces electricity.
Nissan says its fuel cell system has greater power efficiency than traditional hydrogen fuel cells. This will enable future models equipped with the system to have a range similar to gasoline-powered cars - about 373 miles according to Nissan's estimates.
Besides providing additional range, the technology offers a clear advantage over traditional hydrogen fuel cells as bio-ethanol fuels are widely available in Asia, North America, and South America. This effectively eliminates the largest obstacle facing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, namely a lack of hydrogen refueling stations. Furthermore, bio-ethanol is not combustible unlike hydrogen which needs to be stored in an expensive high-pressure tank.
Nissan is targeting 2020 when we might see vehicles with an e-Bio Fuel Cell but noted it expects running costs will be "remarkably low" and on par with today’s electric vehicles.