Volvo has started developing fuel cells to help extend the range of an electric car but with significantly reduced tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions.
The technology, backed by research from the Swedish Energy Agency, generates electricity without emissions of carbon oxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx) and particles. Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are significantly reduced compared with a conventional vehicle. The end products are electricity, water and a small amount of carbon dioxide.
The aim is to have two prototype chassis based on the Volvo C30 DRIVe electric ready for testing in everyday traffic in 2012.
Stefan Jacoby, Volvo Cars president and chief executive officer, said: “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.”
Volvo Cars is working together with the company Powercell Sweden on the project. In the first phase, a preliminary study is being conducted into what is known as a range extender, which consists of a fuel cell with a reformer. The task of the reformer is to break down a liquid fuel, in this case petrol, and create hydrogen gas. In the fuel cell, this hydrogen gas is converted into electrical energy, which is used to power the car's electric motor.
Increased operating range
This technology is expected to increase the electric car's operating range by up to 150 miles - in addition to the range provided by the car's battery pack which is usually around 100 miles.
The cost of the technology is expected to improve as the process is refined and production reaches a larger scale.
Jacoby said: “We have just taken the first steps and it is naturally too early to talk about market introduction of electric cars with range extenders. The industrial decision will come after we have learned more about fuel cells and the opportunities they offer.”