Nissan explores with new fuel cell

e-Bio Fuel-Cell runs on ethanol or blend of ethanol and water

Published: August 6, 2016, 10:30 PM
Updated: August 9, 2016, 9:08 PM

Nissan e-Bio Fuel Cell Prototype

Nissan is experimenting with a new transportation powertrain — in an electric version of the NV200 running on bio-ethanol electric power — heralding it as the world's first Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered prototype.

“The e-Bio Fuel-Cell offers eco-friendly transportation and creates opportunities for regional energy production…all the while supporting the existing infrastructure,” said Nissan president and 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.”

The e-NV200 test mule uses 100% ethanol to charge a 24kWh battery, offering a driving range of more than 600 km. The vehicle was introduced in Rio prior to the Olympics and Nissan says it will be conducting real-world driving tests in the country in coming years.

The way it works is that fuel (the ethanol, or as Ghosn mentioned, a mix of ethanol and water) is electrochemically converted into electricity, which charges a battery used to power an electric motor (or several electric motors, depending on the vehicle). Instead of having to plug in a vehicle prior to use, you just have to make sure you have fuel in the tank (in this case a 30 litre supply) and go.

Its emissions are carbon neutral, with Nissan stating it is part of the natural carbon cycle. With the fuel cell’s output of 5 kW, it’s acceleration is comparable to an electric vehicle’s, while offering a driving range that is more comparable to that of a gasoline vehicle.

Brazil is country heavy into ethanol as a transportation fuel, with a wide and well-established infrastructure, so it made it a natural for the announcement, especially given the world stage provided by the Olympic games. Ethanol is traditionally sourced from sugarcane or corn and due to its low combustibility (especially when blended with water) it could be sold off the shelf in retail venues, meaning you could theoretically purchase it off the shelf at a Canadian Tire store.