When Nissan first announced its new SOFC (Solid-Oxide Fuel Cell) technology, we have anticipated: Brazil would be the ideal place for testing. For the simple reason it already has an ethanol distribution network as a fuel. Bingo. Nissan has announced today that the e-Bio Fuel Cell is already testing in Brazilian roads. And that it is the first vehicle to use such technology.
The prototype is based on the e-NV200 van. It is 4.73 m long, 1.73 m wide, 1.87 m high and has a wheelbase of 2.93 m. The electric van uses a battery pack of 24 kWh, just like the Leaf, and offers a 170 km range.
Nissan has, apparently, just added the stack of SOFC at the back of the van, as well as the reformer to turn into hydrogen the ethanol that fits into the 30 l fuel tank. That alone allows the van range to go from 170 km to more than 600 km, according to the automaker.
What the e-Bio Fuel Cell tells us
We were expecting Nissan to present an entirely new vehicle, specifically designed for the technology, but the fact that it has been fitted to an existing car, one that is currently for sale, tells us 2 things. First, and more important, that the Japanese carmaker does not see the SOFC as a means to power the vehicle by itself, but as a supplementary system for generating energy. Instead of a small combustion engine working as a generator, the e-NV200 has a fuel cell.
The image above shows a Toyota Mirai cutaway. As you can see in it, the Mirai also has a battery, but it is supplementary to the fuel cell. And it is only useful to store the energy obtained from regenerative braking. The Riversimple Rasa uses super capacitors for the same task, what makes much more sense, considering super capacitor characteristics. But they do not include the investment Toyota has already made on nickel-metal hydride batteries so far. They are the same ones used in hybrid vehicles, such as the Prius. Nissan’s choice of having a BEV (battery electric vehicles) with a SOFC range extender goes in the same direction and for the same reasons. Putting it in other words, the second thing we have learned from the e-Bio Fuel Cell prototype is that Nissan will keep on betting in BEVs. And it will probably fit it in future electric cars.
Nissan has unfortunately disclosed very little on the SOFC technology apart from saying it is able to deliver 5 kW. A clue that came with the video above, that AVL has assisted Nissan in the development of its SOFC, did not help us go much further. Will they be cheaper than the fuel cells used by the Mirai? Will they be incorporated into future electric cars from Nissan, such as the second generation Leaf? The tests in Brazilian roads will provide answers. As well as the use of Brazilian ethanol, extracted from sugarcane and also from biomass, the so-called second generation ethanol. But we will have to wait for them. God (or Ghosn) knows how long it will take.