Nissan Developing Electric Cars Powered By Ethanol Fuel Cells

JUL 2 2016 BY MARK KANE 59

Nissan announces development of the world’s first SOFC-powered vehicle system that runs on bio-ethanol electric power

Nissan announces development of the world’s first SOFC-powered vehicle system that runs on bio-ethanol electric power

Nissan announces development of the world’s first SOFC-powered vehicle system that runs on bio-ethanol electric power

Nissan announces development of the world’s first SOFC-powered vehicle system that runs on bio-ethanol electric power

Nissan, on its own pursuit of a zero emission society for passenger vehicles, is still searching for new alternatives for all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars.

To that end, the Japanese manufacturer just announced a research project with Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered systems that runs on bio-ethanol.

It’s a similar concept to the hydrogen fuel cell, just with ethanol, or ethanol-blended with water, to generate electricity – and then everything operating as per the norm – with an electric motor propelling the wheels.

We wouldn’t suspect that Nissan, after all the extensive spending on BEVs, is seriously interested in all-new technologies like bio-ethanol fuel cells, but the company is still committed to working projects on-the-side to continue learning, and gauging the viability of alternative technology.

According to the press release, running costs of e-Bio Fuel-Cell would be roughly on par with today’s EVs. Range could be north of 600 km (370 miles) and refueling will be pretty quick – like with fuel cell technology, the question of the infrastructure and delivery of fuel would still be one of the main concerns

The next question is whether it will ever live beyond demonstration project?

“The new system— a world first for automotive use—features an e-Bio Fuel-Cell with an SOFC power generator. SOFC is a fuel cell utilizing the reaction of multiple fuels, including ethanol and natural gas, with oxygen to produce electricity with high efficiency.

About e-Bio Fuel-Cell

The e-Bio Fuel Cell generates electricity through the SOFC (power generator) using bio-ethanol stored in the vehicle. The e-Bio Fuel-Cell utilizes hydrogen transformed from fuel via a reformer and atmospheric oxygen, with the subsequent electrochemical reaction producing electricity to power the vehicle.

Unlike conventional systems, e-Bio Fuel-Cell features SOFC as its power source, affording greater power efficiency to give the vehicle cruising ranges similar to gasoline-powered cars (more than 600km). In addition, the e-Bio Fuel-Cell car’s distinct electric-drive features—including silent drive, linear start-up and brisk acceleration—allow users to enjoy the joys and comfort of a pure electric vehicle (EV).

Fuel-cell systems use chemicals that react with oxygen, generating power without release of harmful byproducts. Bio-ethanol fuels, including those sourced from sugarcane and corn, are widely available in countries in North and South America, and Asia. The e-Bio Fuel-Cell, using bio-ethanol, can offer eco-friendly transportation and create opportunities in regional energy production, while supporting existing infrastructure.

When power is generated in a fuel-cell system, CO2 is usually emitted., With the bio-ethanol system, CO2 emissions are neutralized from the growing process of sugarcane making up the bio-fuel, allowing it to have a “Carbon-Neutral Cycle,” with nearly no CO2 increase whatsoever.

The Future of e-Bio Fuel-Cell

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. As this will remove limits on creating a totally new infrastructure, it has great potential for market growth.

Running costs will be remarkably low—on par with today’s EVs, ultimately benefitting the public as well as businesses, because the e-Bio Fuel-Cell is an ideal fit for wider customer needs because of the short refueling time and ample power supply that can support a range of services such as refrigerated delivery.

The Quest for a Zero-Emission Society

In pursuit of realizing a zero-emission and zero-fatality society for cars, Nissan continues to promote vehicle intelligence and electrification. Nissan’s brand promise of “Innovation That Excites” is delivered with “Nissan Intelligent Mobility”, which focuses on how cars are powered, driven and integrated into society through a more enjoyable driving experience.

The e-Bio Fuel-Cell will realize the concept of “Nissan Intelligent Power,” promoting greater efficiency and electrification of cars and the joys of driving, alongside battery EVs, such as the “Nissan Leaf”, “Nissan e-NV200,” and “e-Power,” which is equipped with an engine housing an exclusive large-capacity motor and power generator.

Nissan will continue to provide value to its customers by incorporating systems that enable the extraction of electric power from various fuels, while addressing the infrastructure issues tied to energy supply in every region of the world.”

 Nissan announces development of the world’s first SOFC-powered vehicle system that runs on bio-ethanol electric power

Nissan announces development of the world’s first SOFC-powered vehicle system that runs on bio-ethanol electric power

Categories: Nissan


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59 Comments on "Nissan Developing Electric Cars Powered By Ethanol Fuel Cells"

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It’s for inefficient vehicle formats, like Pick-Ups and full size Vans.

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Except that range of battery EVs increase rapidly. No way I will be again slave of the liquid fuel pump.

Since the Model S has been introduced, range has barely increased. It’s not a great trend.

265 to 294, not too bad but I agree. I bet Elec cars max out at 375 mile range ……140 is enough for me

Batteries have a very long way to go before they run up against the limits of what is physically possible in increasing ED. In theory, batteries should be able reach the ED of gasoline. In practice, probably somewhat less, but certainly much, much higher ED than EV makers are using today.

This is an older graph, but still useful to illustrate the point:

+ infinity!

“Since the Model S has been introduced, range has barely increased.”

Because the model S was designed for cost as no object. There is no logical reason to need range in excess of 200 miles. Up until about a decade ago, that was the average range of a gas car, and that increased largely because of a side effect of increased gas efficiency.

We need cost reductions in the 200 mile/50kWh space, and with Bolt, M3, and potentially other cars that is arriving.

What we need is better charging, not heavier and more expensive cars.

Exactly my point that I post constantly. We need enough batteries for maybe two commutes on board. Range extender could be this new type of ethanol fuel cell. Why not go that route over a gas engine range extender? I like it – far more than a hydrogen based fuel cell. Use ethanol – but also I would like to see Propane used for range extenders.

Most of us could get by with 20 kWh on board. We could rent a long range BEV or ICE when needed for the random, rare travel.

Since the Model S has been introduced, demand for range has barely increased. It’s a great trend.

There fixed it for you!

So you prefer beeing a slave of the power network and not occupied chargers (which are usually blocked for a longer time (>15min)).
That ethanol system just needs a spare can (=very mobile) to be quickly “charged” for a quite long range. And I know very many people making ethanol (ok, more like E40 than E100) by their own (legally).


I’ll just be a slave to the panels on my roof and the inverters in my garage.

it actually works for any format. i think that the real driver behind all of this is the need to have a zero-emission vehicle that can refill in a time that is comparable to the time that it takes to fill a gas tank.

bev’s currently have an energy density disadvantage compared to icev’s. but if you increase charge capacity, you also increase recharge time. to get recharge times down to the refill time range, you would have to have megawatt charging stations that delivery kilovolts to the charger head. not safe!

each zero-emission technology presents its own set of environmental risks, so there is a long way to go before we will really know how this currently immature technology will ultimately resolve.

Zero emission is NOT zero pollution. Ethanol is economically disastrous without heavy subsidies, scrap the farming land and has a large CO² trail from production, processing and transport.
This is just another attempt to delay the rEVolution of energy and transportation.
Solar/Wind + Storage Batteries + BEVs soon will be the most effective, economical, independent and clean solution all around.

it turns out that batteries are also an ecological disaster. that’s why i stated that each technology presents its own set of ecological challenges.

Batteries? a disaster? About 1/1000 of the damage oil does, from wars, extraction, transport, refining, distributing, and burning it in our inefficient ICE cars.
Have you tried to recycle a gallon of gas or ethanol? or NG?

Electric drive and energy is by far the most ecological, economical and logical choice. His only flaw is being independent from the energy cartels. This is why pe-trolls are so active in promoting anything but electrics.

And it is also why ICE car makers want to keep their ICE business alive… and screw the climate even more in the process.

no comment said:

“…it turns out that batteries are also an ecological disaster.”

As compared to what? I suppose it can be argued that all manufacturing industries are “ecological disasters”.

I guess we all should go back to riding bicycles, hmmm? Oh, wait! Bicycles are made from steel, aluminum, paint, rubber, and plastic. Just think of all the ecological disasters there!

I guess we’d all better become Amish.

Or perhaps we should consider the fact that batteries are made only once (or at most twice) for the lifetime of the car, whereas gasmobiles need a constant supply of gasoline and motor oil.

“no comment” said:

“…to get recharge times down to the refill time range, you would have to have megawatt charging stations that delivery kilovolts to the charger head. not safe!”

Using highly flammable liquids like gasoline to power ordinary cars is inherently unsafe, too. But the industry has established safety procedures to minimize the risks, and people accept that some risk is necessary to store enough power in a car to move it down the road at highway speed for hours.

Or at least, informed people do.

So you can power your car not only with sunshine, but also with moonshine… if you know what I mean 😀

Why? This is another press release to keep Nissan upfront in the press…they do it often and it is vapor.

All the car companies do it; but, the best at dream PR is VW with Nissan a close second. VW has sold a lot of dirty diesel using PR. If you don’t think it works, look a all the people who responded.


For NYC residents who park their cars on the street with no access to a plug to recharge.

Ethanol is easier to store and transport than hydrogen. However, growing bioethanol competes with land used for other uses, in particular food. You could produce ethanol directly from carbon dioxide in the air, but I think it’s expensive. Converting natural gas into ethanol would contribute to climate change.

I’m not loving this idea.

> Ethanol is easier to store and transport than hydrogen.

My nomination for understatement of the year award. 🙂

i didn’t know that nissan’s expenditure on bev technology was “more extensive” than that of other auto makers. in an ideal world, bev’s would be the way to go, but the technology is still in its infancy, so it is good to see that such research is being done; it does point to the conclusion that the traditional icev is going to eventually be replaced.

A bit surprised really – thought Ghosn had a handle.

While less mad than H2 in some ways, I think biofuel is simply not dense enough in production to be viable. It just takes too much land.

As a primary drive system, I’m not at all interested, but as a range extender, it seems like a very good idea.

Or alternately, this could function as an emergency charger for limping along if caught out of range.

Well worth researching, in my opinion, and something I would purchase if offered as an affordable option, price dependent on the additional utility offered.

For fuel cells, apart from Hydrogen the fuels that are considered are Methane (CNG / LNG) and Methanol (Liquid).

Because Methane contains 80% Hydrogen and other 20% being Carbon.

How did Nissan get the idea of using Ethanol.

In fact Toyota and Hyundai took the Hydrogen route since its lot more simpler.

What is their timeline for launching Ethanol FCV. I guess this will never hit the market. And before that the Electric Vehicles will hit the mass market.

Just about any kind of fuel cell is better than hydrogen. Zinc-oxide is sort of like a fuel cell; even if they never find a way to make the reaction reversible like a battery, these refueled zinc-oxide cells have already been used by the Army for portable power.

Not to be ‘that guy’, but..
An ‘electric car powered by ethanol’ is… an ethanol car, not an electric car. An electric car fills up with electricity. A fuel car fills up with fuel.

So, by that logic, you would then agree that an EV charged with electricity from a power plant fueled by coal is a “coal-powered” car?

That’s actually not the logic being used. The distinction is that the ethanol car carries the ethanol with it, while the coal-charged BEV only carries electrons (not to mention that it can of course be trivially changed into a wind-charged or solar-charged BEV, without changing the car itself at all).

P.S. I personally would dub it a hybrid — just an ethanol-electric hybrid rather than a gasoline-electric hybrid. If you can also charge the battery by plugging in, then it’s a PHEV.

Yes, if you burn the coal in the car to generate the electricity.

By the same token, if you reform the ethanol into H2 and run it through a fuel cell outside of the vehicle and charge up a battery with the elections: your an electric car. 🙂

The ethanol is really just another way to store electrons. Just as lithium is used in the battery, carbon and hydrogen are used in the ethanol

I am quite surprised at all the people who post comments to InsideEVs arguing that only BEVs deserve to be called “EVs” or “electric cars”.

All cars which are built to be capable of moving the car down the road using only electric motors are EVs, or “electric cars”. The electric motor doesn’t care whether the electricity comes from an on-board source like a fuel cell, or an off-board source like a hydroelectric plant, a gas-fired power plant, or a nuclear power plant.

If the car is propelled by one or more electric motors, then it’s an electric car. End of subject.

I’m not a BEV purist, by any means.
I’m saying your definition is a bit of a stretch.
A prius or accord hybrid only fills with gasoline, and I certainly would not call them electric vehicles.
Most trains are diesel, but electric motors to the wheels, but no one is calling them electric trains.
An electric vehicle is filled with electricity. A fuel vehicle is filled with fuel.

If you want to get really absurd with labeling, every vehicle is a solar car, because all energy on our planet at some point came from the sun.
But no one would be calling a Hummer a solar car, ever.

Ah, so it’s HFCV, but instead of having to have hydrogen production, infrastructure and storage, it uses ethanol production, refueling infrastructure and an ethanol storage instead.

I think it’s an interesting approach since it sidesteps the biggest challenge for HFCV.

As noted by someone else, at the moment ethanol production would be insufficient for this to be _the_ solution for sustainable transportation, but as part of an over electrification strategy it could make sense, especially given that ethanol heating could provide a simple and useful cold-climate solution to the challenge of providing cabin heat in BEVs.

Watered down ethanol? So, it runs on Coors Light?

The easy solution to distribution is to take the traditional 3-tank gas station (regular, mid-grade, and premium) and install blender pumps.

With the blender pumps, you don’t need a mid-grade tank anymore. Fill the old mid-grade tank with E100.

Connect a water reverse osmosis or some other water purifier to the municipal water supply, and plumb that into the blender pumps.

Now you can pump any mix of gas, ethanol, and water with minimal infrastructure upgrades.

Or you just get rid off the crap you call petrol, replace it with some actual quality petrol and then have two pumps left to put Ethanol in and something else.

That juice you call premium is worse than regular petrol in first world countries 😉

“It’s a similar concept to the hydrogen fuel cell, just with ethanol”.

This statement is false based on the diagram at the top of the article. Diagram shows:
1. ethanol fuel (C6HO) flowing to a reformer to produce hydrogen (H2)
2. The hydrogen (H2) flows the the fuel cell stack (SOFC).

Basically the difference between this bio-ethanol system and hydrogen fuel cell is the the manor in which hydrogen is store and delivered to the fuel cell stack that generates electricity.

Ref: Hydrogen generation from ethanol has been actively researched for the last decade.
Just do a search on
[ ethanol reforming for hydrogen production ]

This means less drink… I cannot agree to this.

This only slightly better than the Hydrogen fuel – fool cell, but could be an temp step as normal petrol stations can dispense ethanol.

Nissan’s solution is way better, but better batteries/fast charging are better solution in the end.

gotta love a car that runs on moonshine.
CO2 does not cause adverse climate change.
Interesting technology. Might be great for home use?

Growing corn isn’t carbon neutral, and uses up land that could be devoted to food production.

Now we are talking, ethanol fuel cells is a brilliant idea assuming that they can get the price down.

No infrastructure problems, the infrastructure is already there (with minor modifications).

Still full benefits from the simplicity of EVs but no need to have the extra cost and weight of a battery larger than ~20 kWh.
And very little time spent when fueling up compared to charging when on the road.

Of course combined with a plug then 90% of miles coming from the plug and the last 10% from ethanol.

Ethanol can be made from cellulose so regular waste from the paper industry and wood could get a large part of the ethanol needed. A lot of countries already blend in 5-10% ethanol so little growth in production would be needed anyway.

BEVs + Ethanol PHFCEVs 😉 could easily be all that are needed in the future.

Combined with HVO diesel and the equivalent petrol for the current fleet on the road before being replaced with zero-emission vehicles a few decades from now.

Mikael said:

“Ethanol can be made from cellulose so regular waste from the paper industry and wood could get a large part of the ethanol needed.”

An industry dependent on the waste product of another industry has an inherently limited supply of raw materials. Simple physics shows that the dependent industry must remain considerably smaller than the primary industry.

Bottom line: if there was enough biomass available for ethanol fuel from waste sources such as sawdust and silage, then there would never have been enough demand to divert farmland from growing food to growing corn-into-ethanol.

A lot of countries already blend in 5-10% ethanol so little growth in production would be needed anyway.”

Yeah, if all cars and trucks were run on 100% ethanol, it would “only” require another two or three orders of magnitude greater production. No problem, right? 🙄

Has anyone analyzed how much of the energy in the sugar cane for bio ethanol comes from sunlight and how much comes from petroleum based fertilizers?

Even if most of the energy is from the sun it’s going to be a pretty inefficient way to convert sunlight into motion. However there’s always the benefit of quick refill. All these FCEV really aught to be plug-in hybrids so you use the most efficient source of energy for most of the time and only use the fuel cell for long distances.

As a range extender it can be interesting but why do they pass through a reformer instead of directly using the ethanol in the fuel cell. That would be simpler, cheaper and more compact. They probably haven’t succeded that direct route yet but that would be better since the reformer needs to work at high temperature. The direct route would not need that high temperature and spare that extra step.

On application I would limit to range extender since full use would mean using too much ethanol.
Other potential is where batteries tend to give up like airplanes, long haul trucks and ships. But they have to be quick because short distance airplane will soon come into the reach of 400 Wh/Kg batteries. Long flights is a safer bet.

Priusmaniac asked:

“…why do they pass through a reformer instead of directly using the ethanol in the fuel cell.”

Because fuel cells work by combining pure hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce water, releasing energy at the same time.

To use ethanol or any other hydrocarbon as the fuel for a FCEV, it is necessary to first remove the carbon from the hydrocarbon. That’s what the reformer is for.

SOFC’s operate at high temperature and don’t need a separate reformer. Solid Oxide Fuel Cells can run on any HydroCarbon including gasoline, if its pure. They take a while to warm up so best used as a range extender.

SOFCs can directly process light hydrocarbons such as methane but AFAIK need external reforming for more complex molecules such as ethanol. One can integrate the two units and use heat from the SOFC to drive the reformer, but it’s still a two-step process.

SOFCs use expensive materials to survive the high temps, but if they can get the cost down it could be a great range extender. The US produces 15 billion gallons of ethanol per year. That’s roughly enough to handle all passenger car long distance trips.

Nuclear powered fuel cell cars are way better than electric car slavery.

Conservative Logic

You have randomly spammed 8 threads today with what can only be considered wildly off-topic comments intended to incite reaction, most of which have obvious untruths to them.

We would suggest you make this one your last, or for the good of the community at large you will be removed, becoming the 12th member of a small family of people not welcome at InsideEVs

I’m glad to see R&D being done on fuel cell cars which move past the need to use compressed hydrogen gas as fuel, which only a physics denier would claim could ever be practical or affordable.

As someone said in a comment to a previous InsideEVs article on fuel cell cars, FCEVs make an interesting science experiment. But actually putting them into production is, I think, one of the stupidest things mankind has ever done.

Ambulator said:

“Ethanol is easier to store and transport than hydrogen. However, growing bioethanol competes with land used for other uses, in particular food.”

Yeah, diverting farmland to growing corn for producing ethanol is galactically stupid, and has already driven up the price of food, substantially in far too many regions.

But it’s still far less stupid than trying to use compressed hydrogen gas for ordinary passenger cars.

The Nissan press release says:

“With the bio-ethanol system, CO2 emissions are neutralized from the growing process of sugarcane making up the bio-fuel, allowing it to have a ‘Carbon-Neutral Cycle,’ with nearly no CO2 increase whatsoever.”

That would only be true if the process of manufacturing and distributing ethanol were 100% efficient, from the viewpoint of EROI (Energy Returned On Investment).

Is Nissan actually claiming to have repealed the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

In reality, using agriculture to produce ethanol is notoriously inefficient, to the point that some analyses claim the EROI is less than 1:1. By comparison, EROI for gasoline ranges from about 10:1 to 20:1… a 10 to 20 fold improvement.

But then, corn-into-ethanol is still far less wasteful of energy (and resources) than trying to use compressed hydrogen as a fuel!

This is probably one of the more practical approaches to fuel cells I’ve seen. It still doesn’t overcome the inherent inefficiencies of fuel cell technology though. Still, as someone mentioned above, it could be a way for heavy duty vehicles to go electric. Long haul trucks and regional trucks can’t really make use of longer range batteries (with existing technology) so only fuel cells can work.

Personally, I’d prefer long haul goods movement be handled by electrified high speed freight trains with single trailer tractor-trailers handling only regional transportation. But while we have long haul trucking, this could be a good emissions reducing alternative.