Electric Vehicle With A Direct Methanol Fuel Cell Range Extender?



The fuel cell vehicle gets re-imagined with this SILENT-F direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) range extender.

Per Green Car Congress:

“Researchers from Forschungszentrum Jülich and the FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences (Jülich Campus) are building and testing a light transport electric vehicle using a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) as a range extender.”

In the image above, the fuel cell range extender is mounted on the vehicle.  The caption states that a “plastic cover serves temporarily as protection from the rain.”

The DMFC project kicked off in 2013.  Eventually, the target is to ready the range extender for real-world tests. SILENT-F, the test vehicle, is “based on a commercially available vehicle for in-house transport or municipal use,” according to Green Car Congress.

More details (unfortunately not in English) can be found in this 2-page SILENT-F PDF.

Our question to you is whether or not methanol is preferred over hydrogen in an application such as this range-extending fuel cell?

Source: Green Car Congress

Categories: General


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26 Comments on "Electric Vehicle With A Direct Methanol Fuel Cell Range Extender?"

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It all depends on the wells to wheels efficiency.

I have ofter wondered why our hybrids are not flex fuel happy… this seems a great idea.

Methanol’s primary advantage is that it is a liquid, so you don’t need a high pressure tank. It will also have a much higher energy density than hydrogen. It should be almost the same as gasoline for all safety concerns (and can be burned in ICEs almost identical to gasoline ICEs).
From a quick online search, most methods of producing methanol use hydrogen as an input. So I’m not sure it is any better energetically. But it can be used to sequester carbon dioxide from power plants, which would make it carbon neutral (it delays the carbon dioxide release from when the electricity is produced to when the fuel cell burns the methanol). For example, http://www.gizmag.com/photochemical-photosynthesis-uta-co2-methanol/26766/

If the methanol fuel cells have similar price and performance to hydrogen fuel cells, this would certainly be better than hydrogen, mostly because the gasoline infrastructure can be used for methanol distribution with only minimal modification. And if the fuel cells aren’t cheap enough, then methanol ICE range extenders could be used instead.

I haven’t studied this much but it seems interesting.

We have a guy or 2 at GM-Volt (Dave G. and Nasaman) that are proponents of this tech.

They propose cellulosic methanol as a carbon free fuel source to compliment the electric side of the equation.

Hopefully there is someone here that has studied this enough to offer another opinion.

Seems like part of the problem with it was that DMFC was of a very low power level…ie Kw/lb.

In addition I think cellulosic methanol is not a much developed tech at this point.

Anyone concur?

It is actually easier to make cellulosic methanol than cellulosic ethanol. A company called Range Fuels built a demonstration cellulosic plant, and found they could make methanol fine, but had to shut down after they went to ethanol production because it was much tougher. Other cellulosic fuel companies have experienced the same thing.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

May as well go with a gasoline/diesel/CNG fuel cell then..

Now we are talking. A plug-in EV with a methanol fuel cell as range extender have the posibility of being one of the solutions of the future.

This will be interesting to see how it develops.

If you are using it in a cold climate a small methanol range extender means that the performance of the battery pack can still be at optimum levels as the waste heat from the fc keeps it warm.

Unlike using a combustion engine RE it is still zero pollution at point of use, so there would be no worries about running it for that purpose.

Even a 5kw RE could be used to keep a car topped up, and mean that if, say, you parked the car in a garage at work without an electrical supply it could still replenish the battery, as running indoors is no problem as there are no CO fumes.

The only viable source of mass production methanol is natural gas (http://www.topsoe.com/business_areas/methanol/~/media/PDF%20files/Methanol/Topsoe_large_scale_methanol_prod_paper.ashx). In theory methanol could be sold on any gas station but it would require replacement of many if not most of the fuel tanks as it is much more corrosive than petrol.

It is the cheapest way of producing methanol, but then using natural gas is also the cheapest way, with coal, of producing electricity.

Mandates mean that lower carbon alternatives can take part of the market, and the same is true of methanol production.

One of many, many references, this one on using wind and waste CO2 for fuel:

It is undoubtedly more expensive, but the question is can it be made affordable?

That link is interesting but there is a simpler way to produce methanol since a methanol fuel cell can be made reversible. You introduce CO2 and water and obtain methanol when you apply electricity. This system could be interesting to store electrical energy for very long terms of mounths or even years.

That is what the wind is for, to supply the electricity.

Nope, you can easily make methanol from forest waste, instead of letting it tor and make methane, you can make methanol and use it for transportation makes sense.

I found a pretty good link that compares these different fuel cells.

As I suspected these DMFC’s are low power density. Listed as mW to 1kw. 1 Kw is not much power.

Scaling capability is limited. state of development shown as proven.

Water cooled PEM (I think the Toyota FC is this type) is shown as proven tech with excellent scalability and power density.


Good link.

There are a number of companies into DMFC, and all working on increasing power and so on.

Oorja specialises in the fork lift truck market:

Efoy builds units for caravans and boats.

Toyota is also developing them:

Another approach is to reform various fuels on board, for instance formic acid:

There are big challenges for all of them, but progress is rapid

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

And none of them is practical for mobile use at more than $0.10/W . I think SOFCs using hydrocarbon fuels and/or ammonia directly make more sense, as long as they can get down to those levels of cost.

I think you have mislaid a decimal place there.
They ain’t $100kw, or every BEV on the planet would have one!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

$0.10/W = $100/kW
75kW range extender = $7500

A bit rich, but in a luxury EREV it would be feasible.

A methanol RE is only about 5-10kw.
That’s enough to keep your battery topped up providing that you are not hammering down the motorway, which needs in the order of 30kw or so.

Not even the hydrogen PEMs used in the Toyota and Hyundai are at $100kw yet though, nor anything like it.

The 100kw stack costs of the order of $50k, or $500W, and methanol fuel cells a lot more.

Costs are dropping very fast though, much faster than batteries.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

And until they do drop to reasonable levels (at or below $0.10/W) they won’t be practical to swap out a combustion-based range extender. Assuming they can get 60+% efficiency when combined with exhaust heat reclamation, which would get about 20kWh out of a gallon of gas (or equivalent). That would be 50+mpg in a midsize sedan or CUV, 70+mpg in a compact car, given what EVs currently take to operate.

They would need to be at around $30-50wh to match the price of an ICE per wh equivalent.

There are lots of balance of plant costs though, such as high temperature exhausts and loads of other things you need in an ICE and not on a FC/BEV combination.

Plus the emissions and the fact that a small ICE RE is likely to be noisy like that in the i3.

Methanol fuel cells have a lot further to go than hydrogen ones, which is why they have not been picked by Toyota et al for their FCEVs, with issues ranging from precious metal use, to durability, bulk and so on.

Just the same although those issues need tackling, a lot of the cost is just due to bespoke production, and a 5-10kw RE is such an attractive product from a utility POV, for delivery vehicles and taxis and so on at first, that efforts and progress are both rapid.

I’d actually prefer Ammonia (NH3) over either methanol (CH4O) or hydrogen, since it contains no carbon. Although ammonia is a gas that needs to be stored under pressure, it can be put in a water solution to create household ammonia or ammonium hydroxide. Ammonia is already made on a vast industrial scale since it is the main feedstock for the fixed nitrogen used to generate the world’s supply of fertilizer. The problem with ammonia is that it’s currently made using the Haber-Bosch process, which uses natural gas as the source for the hydrogen needed to convert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia. However, researchers are working on a less carbon-intensive pathway for producing ammonia using electrochemical synthesis where ammonia is synthesized directly from air and water at room temperature and one atmosphere pressure using electricity. Using electricity from renewable resources makes this process a carbon-free pathway for producing ammonia. When you produce carbon-free ammonia you can then produce carbon-free hydrogen. http://www.greencarcongress.com/2013/01/ammonia-20130130.html Since there are no ammonia fuel cells, the ammonia (NH3) would have to be decomposed via a catalyst to deliver hydrogen (H2) to a fuel cell. Researchers are working on an high-efficiency and low-cost process to crack ammonia for hydrogen using… Read more »

Methanol is a clean burning fuel, whether in a combustion engine or in a fuel cell.

Methanol is the dominant fuel cell feed for telecoms and some materials handling applications. It is suitable for recharging batteries.

Methanol is a far more pragmatic avenue to achieve automotive fuel cell than hydrogen. As demonstrated by the ability to ‘home brew’ Methanol Fuel Cell EVs (they have a plug)

Hydrogen will never be a pragmatic fuel for the automotive market (passenger or heavy vehicles). but methanol has an outside opportunity.

You are right that methanol is clean burning.

That is not actually what happens in a fuel cell though, neither it nor anything else is burnt in a fuel cell.

That may seem a picky distinction to make, but it has real world consequences.

If you have a high temperature fuel cell you can stick just about anything into it, diesel, petrol, whatever, and it will not emit the same toxic gunk as you get burning it.

So fuel cell technology means that emissions are cleaned up whatever you use.

I don’t know if they are zero emissions.
If I have time I may try to chase down some references, but they are way lower than burning the fuel.

I’ve checked out some stuff (caution: nerd at work!)

Volvo are using Powercell diesel fcs as APUs in trucks.

Regarding pollution:

‘The fuel autothermal reformer (ATR) module, which converts standard low sulfur diesel to a hydrogen-rich gas through a controlled catalytic process. The ATR extracts hydrogen-rich gas with high purity, well within the limits of what a low-temperature PEM fuel cell can support in terms of CO. By avoiding combustion, no NOX or particulates are created. Downstream, sulfur is trapped and carbon monoxide is cleaned up while the hydrogen content is enriched.’


Here is the data sheet:

Looking at page 4 there is a heck of a long way to go to have anything usable in a car.
Taking their 2016 projections the unit is around 2 feet square and weighs 150 kgs whilst only producing around half the power needed to be useful as an RE!

Still, early days and a great technology to develop.

A methanol fuel cell is certainly a way better idea then an hydrogen fuel cell, but I would rather have a direct ethanol fuel cell because ethanol is non toxic, hold more energy and is already distributed as bioethanol, which make it renewable in the same time.