Nissan Motor Company has announced it’s working on a new Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) system that will use bio-ethanol to produce electric power. The automaker hopes to have this new setup -- the first ever designed for use in cars and trucks -- production ready by 2020. According to Nissan, its e-Bio Fuel Cell and power-generating SOFC will be more efficient than existing conventional fuel cell systems and offer a range in excess of 370 miles. It also will eliminate the need for the costly, high-pressure infrastructure required to support hydrogen refueling and the equally expensive in-vehicle hydrogen storage tanks. 

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Essentially, Nissan’s e-Bio Fuel Cell generates hydrogen via an on-board reformer that converts either ethanol (E100) or an ethanol/water (E55) blend into hydrogen which is subsequently mixed with oxygen in the SOFC to create electricity. That charge is then shipped to a storage battery which energizes the vehicle’s electric motor. Nissan says by using widely available bio-ethanol derived from sugarcane, corn or any number of other organic sources, overall CO2 levels could be reduced to near carbon-neutral status and that overall operating costs would be similar to a conventional EV.

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The use of any SOFC system in a vehicle does present some additional challenges – not the least of which is they produce more heat and therefore need better insulation than conventional fuel cells. However, Nissan is confident its new e-Bio/SOFC package can be up and running by the end of the decade.

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