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Fuel cells anyone?

Fuel cells are not a new technology, per se, but direct-ethanol fuel cells are an evolving technology that Nissan is now adopting to leap the infrastructure hurdle. The Japanese automaker has successfully developed a novel method of tapping an onboard tank of ethanol (via a fuel cell drivetrain) instead of pressurized hydrogen. The goal is to deliver a safe and more cost effective ride that will be very user friendly.

The “e-bio fuel cell” as it is internally known will attack a common industry hurdle – how to address the lack of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The Nissan system uses bio-ethanol which comes from corn or sugarcane (traditional, renewable crops). The “e-bio fuel cell” will serve to propel the same vehicles that it has in its fleet as Toyota (the Mirai) or Honda (the Clarity). Hydrogen will be fed through its fuel stack and this will generate electricity to power the automobile. Excess electricity will then be stored in what is known in the auto industry as an onboard battery.

The biggest difference between Nissan and this technology however and its peers is Nissan will generate its hydrogen inside the car through an additional step managed by a reformer. The system according to Nissan insiders has a number of advantages over competitors which includes the adoption of the reformer plus the fact that ethanol fuel is more widely available than hydrogen. No special fueling stations will be required and ethanol is also safer to use than hydrogen as it isn’t as combustible.

Although the positives abound Nissan does admit that the system’s heat management needs improving. Swings from hot to cold can put pressure on durability and due to peak performance at high temperatures driving response can be sluggish until the system requires the temperature necessary to perform at the desired level.

Nissan is well on its way to leading the alternative fuel revolution that is both novel but also cost effective.

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