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.