Volvo Tests Petrol-Powered Fuel Cells For Extending EV Range

Volvo has been testing lately their newest innovation in the field of electric cars – an electric car range extender based on a hydrogen fuel cell powered by liquid organic fuels, such as petrol. In collaboration with Powercell Sweden AB, Volvo’s range extender could take the EV for up to 250 kilometers more and at the same time only emit minute carbon dioxide quantities.

Fuel cells are generally used to extract the energy that derives from the joining of hydrogen and oxygen, with water as the only byproduct. Volvo’s system, though, contains a reformer, which extracts hydrogen from petrol, which is then fed to the fuel cell. The electricity coming from the fuel cell would power the electric motor.

Although one may think that it would be better to just burn the petrol directly and don’t have it pass through the complex reforming process, the big advantage of this approach is that the car would emit no carbon oxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides or any of the particles a normal engine would. The kind of vehicle Volvo proposes would be a viable alternative for hybrid cars which currently use petrol in the classic manner that guzzles gasoline and outputs lots of toxic compounds.

Of course, petrol is never to be though of as the final s0lution – hydrogen is the final solution, but until we find better hydrogen storage materials, or better batteries, this energy carrier and source could help us get from point A to point B with minimum damage done to the environment.

This is an exciting expansion of our focus on electrification. Battery cost and size means that all-electric cars still have a relatively limited operating range. Fuel cells may be one way of extending the distance these cars can cover before they need to be recharged. What is more, the project gives us increased knowledge about fuel cells and hydrogen gas,” says Volvo Cars President and CEO Stefan Jacoby.

Two test cars will be produced using this system on the platform of the C30 DRIVe Electric, and will be tested throughout 2012. Just like Jacoby says, it’s only an experiment and “it is naturally too early to talk about market introduction of electric cars with Range Extenders.” Still, I think it’s an interesting option. Plus, the cars built this way could be at any time retrofitted to run on pure hydrogen or on better batteries, and petrol wouldn’t still be needed.

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Comments

  • mdurcan calm down, dude. you’re right, carbon dioxide would be a problem, but i was under the impression that it would be just carbon, and no oxides thereof. I’m looking into the Volvo system and I missed the point that a reformer would be involved.
    In that case, I wonder how the reformer’s carbon dioxide output compares to other methods of getting hydrogen gas. at this point in my understanding, there still seems to be a significant carbon dioxide emission associated with the technology, which kind of makes it irrelevant.
    have to find a zero-emissions hydrogen generator, still.

  • mdurcan

    LWYOU are forgetting that the input to the SYSTEM is Petrol (That’s the whole point of the announcement) an alkane with a high mass ratio of Carbon to Hydrogen….. where does the reformer put it? soot/smoke/lumps of coal – no CO2 and (worse CO) plus some water (which represents H2 removed from fuel cell later) – I’m afraid you seem to be being falling into the standard green problem of – if I take a small enough PART of a SYSTEM I can show almost anything is green cf some links:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane_reformer
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_methanol_fuel_cell#Fuel_processing_system_.28FPS.29_in
    Please tell me where the Carbon goes in your world?
    This does not do the (fundamentally sound) Green agenda any good Regards
    Matt

  • mdurcan you’re forgetting that in a fuel cell, the outputs would be water, carbon, and electricity. carbon dioxide would only be formed if the fuel is oxidized, which doesn’t happen in a hydrogen fuel cell.
    pretty much any hydrogen-rich fuel can be used, from long-chain hydrocarbons, like C8H18 up to pure h2 [could we call that short-chain?]. of course, pure h2 is the most efficient in a hydrogen fuel cell.

  • mdurcan

    Hi
    “the big advantage of this approach is that the car would emit no carbon oxide” – let’s call “petrol” Octane – C8H18 – then what exactly happens to the some 96 mass units of C corresponding to some 352 mass units of CO2 when the 18 or so mass units of Hydrogen are used?