• Oct 30th 2010 at 5:39PM
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Volvo C30 BEV prototype – Click above for high-res image gallery
Volvo unleashed some big news at the Paris Motor Show. In case you missed it, that's when the automaker confirmed that the C30 battery electric vehicle (BEV) concept was ready to get its production groove on. Shortly thereafter, Volvo's Paul Gustavsson, the architect behind the company's electrification strategy, confirmed that the plug-in C30 will indeed hit the U.S. market. Volvo's first wave of electric C30s are tooling around Sweden and the initial reaction is reportedly quite positive.

Volvo's development and production of the C30 is humming along, albeit at a slow and deliberate pace. The automaker plans to lease 90 or so C30 BEVs to customers throughout Sweden and will closely watch how the vehicles cope with the rigors of real-world use. It will use this data to refine the technology before launching the vehicle to the public in 2013. This refinement, Volvo chief executive officer Stefan Jacoboy states, will lead to a product that, "sets the standard in the industry."

Additionally, Gustavsson claims that the battery-powered C30 is a no-compromise vehicle that, "offers the same comfort, the same space and the same safety as the C30." Safety is the backbone of Volvo, and the electric C30's crash test video speaks for itself. If the C30 electric is destined to "set the industry standard," then one could only hope that the automaker's upcoming plug-in hybrid, as well as its fuel cell range-extended electric vehicle prototype, raise the bar to new heights as well.

What, haven't you heard that Volvo is prototyping a fuel cell range extender for its C30 electric? No. That's okay, we'll fill you in. Volvo aims to have two working prototypes that utilize fuel cell technology to extend the range of its battery-powered C30. The prototypes, developed with assistance from Powercell Sweden AB, should hit the streets by 2012. Volvo anticipates that the fuel cell unit will provide the C30 with at least 155 miles of additional range. If all goes as planned, a production version could follow.

A Volvo C30 DRIVe Electric with a hydrogen fuel cell range extender, yeah, that's a vehicle with real potential to, "set the industry standard." Hit the jump for more on Volvo's plans to development range-extending fuel cell technology for the battery-powered C30. Hat tip to Roy!

[Source: Autopia, Volvo]


Volvo Cars starts development of fuel cells to extend the electric car's operating range

Volvo Cars is now taking the next step towards next-generation electric car technology. Backed by research support from the Swedish Energy Agency the company is initiating development of a fuel cell that can extend the electric car's operating range without any carbon dioxide emissions.

The aim is to have two prototype chassis based on the Volvo C30 DRIVe Electric ready for testing in everyday traffic in 2012.

"This is an exciting expansion of our focus on electrification. 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," says Volvo Cars President and CEO Stefan Jacoby.

Volvo Cars is working together with the company Powercell Sweden AB on this 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.

The technology generates electricity completely without any emissions of carbon oxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx) and particles. Due to the highly efficient process, 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 technology also can be adapted for renewable fuels.

Significantly increased operating range
This technology is expected to increase the electric car's operating range by up to 250 kilometres - in addition to the range provided by the car's battery pack. The fuel cell industry expects that the cost efficiency will improve continuously through refined technology and large-scale production.

In the next phase, pending support from the Swedish Energy Agency, Volvo Cars and Powercell will produce two test cars based on the current Volvo C30 DRIVe Electric. Testing of the cars will begin in 2012.

"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," says Stefan Jacoby.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      The most commonly used fuel cells, PEM, had a notorously short lifspan, but after nearly 20 years of development, they've managed to get them to last about 80,000 miles. Still not enough for "PEM fuel cell only" vehicles to be practical. Problems include erosion of the membrane and migration of the catalyst, but that only occurs when the fuel cell is working.

      But GM, Ford and others realized that if they used them as a "range extender" in a plug-in hybrid car, most of the local driving would be using batteries and not the fuel cell, as electricity is much cheaper than H2 fuel. Since the fuel cell would not be active most of the time, it would last much longer. If 75% of the driving was on battery power only, then the fuel cell would last for 320,000 miles, and since nearly 90% of daily drives are under 50 miles, adequate lifespan should be achievable that way.

      Of course, a H2 fuel cell is a rather expensive type of "range extender", considering its infrequent usage, and H2 fuel has a nasty tendency to slowly leak away, leaving drivers short of H2 right when they'd need that range extension.
        • 4 Years Ago
        A bigger problem with metal hydride storage is that it adds weight and cost, and the biggest problem of all is that metal hydrides are even slower in absorbing H2 than they are in releasing it, as the absorbing produces heat that must be removed. I suppose that problem could be solved by "swappable" metal hydride tanks, but that would add even more cost and potential leaky joints, and swappable batteries would be soo much better!
        • 4 Years Ago
        There are other ways to store hydrogen than just in liquid or pressurized gas form.

        • 4 Years Ago
        I researched those Metallic H2 storage systems before.

        And I had to dig pretty deep if I remember correctly. But what I found is that they do NOT release their hydrogen very quickly. And that to get a full kg of H2 released it would take several hours. which is unacceptable for a vehicle application.
        • 4 Years Ago
        This actually produces an economic problem though:

        With so few miles being driven on H2, there is no incentive for a business to open Hydrogen fueling stations anywhere. At best, local gas stations can keep a small tanks like they do with propane (just much heavier since h2 would leak from that type of container).

        With onboard reformation, that is not a problem... but then again, your still using gasoline.
      • 4 Years Ago
      it would be difficult to be less impressed
      • 4 Years Ago

      If you have to have a range extender an ICE won't add a zero to the price tag and you'll actually be able to find a spot outside CA to fill it up. Hell, just doubling the size of the battery to get that extra hundred or so miles would probably be cheaper.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "Addition: The other part of the split liquid fuel will most prominently be carbon which will bond to oxygen to form CO2. So the reformer will produce significant amounts of CO2 if the hydrogen content of the fuel is low.``

      CO2 is no longer a concern. Thankfully this erroneous fear campaign has expired. But it still presents a question as to the best source and storage method of H2. These FC range extenders will try out a dozen different methods and the market will determine the best - or most practical.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I noticed that hydrogen, oxygen and water don't follow the laws of physics. I noticed that 2 weeks ago and i was afraid to realize it but unfortunately it's true and nobody will ever see year 3000 in 990 years. everything will be gone sooner then later. This product (hydrogen) was the start of actual civilisation, if we become like the beginning of the civilisation then most everyone will be bore and will decide to destruct everything in this weak and erasable small civilisation. Anyway i was please to meet you for a while, adios.

      I told you that most everything was free like when this universe started but creed and shit was the goal. Small life lead to early death. Madmax movie conditions awaits. At least i was owner of a kawasaki zx6r for 8 years.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Larger battery pack and fast charge stations solve this "problem" more efficiently at lower cost. Waste of time.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Kudos to Volvo!

      Battery with fuel cell range extender? Yep, it seems it will be pretty typical of designs we'll see from GM, Toyota, Mercedes, Nissan, Hyundai, Honda, et al...

      We haven't really seen what such a small platform can do with a fuel cell. If the big SUVs and full-size sedans are getting mid-60's miles per kg, I'd anticipate the C30 could do better.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The problem is that the C30 in the US doesn't feature things like City Safe, BLIS, adaptive cruise control, etc.

      They need to make a c30 with all the comfort of an S80.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Eric, you seem to have missed the catch of Volvo's approach to fuel cell technology: it uses a on-board reformer to split a liquid fuel like petrol to create hydrogen gas, which then goes into a PEM fuel cell. So it doesn't have a huge pressurized tank, just a conventional tank filled with liquid fuel.

      This seems like a promising compromise of current range extender approaches; It negates the problems with hydrogen storage, but has the higher efficiency of a fuel cell compared to a ICE range extender.

      The big problem of this will be finding a liquid fuel that has sufficient hydrogen content (gasoline has around 16% for example)
        • 4 Years Ago
        16% is better than the carriers that are being looked at for hydrogen in hydrides etc., which would need new infrastructure.
        The difficulty has always been that impurities poison the fuel cell, and traditionally only high temperature cells have got around that.
        Volvo are not making excessive claims for this, but giving it a go to see how it works, and at what cost.
        The advantage of a fuel cell range extender is that you still have a pure electric vehicle, and you can avoid adding a lot of the extra equipment needed for ICE assistance.
        If they can make it work it would be a fine way of increasing range without excessive weight.
        It's pretty foolish in my view to rule out too many alternatives without giving them a go.
        Fuel cells already work fine in many applications such as fork-lifts in warehouses, and just like batteries the way forward is to keep pushing the envelope.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It is not acceptable for me to generate hydrogen from a fossil fuel. It is, however, more friendly to the environment than the common combustion process but releases almost just as much CO2 and that is not acceptable.
        A viable method would be to generate hydrogen from water via synthetic photosynthesis. Efficiency better than 60% has been achieved in the experimental stage and there is alledgedly still some room for improvement. There are absolutely no emissions other than water. This method could be embraced.
        • 4 Years Ago
        In Sweden, it may be possible to use forestry byproducts as fuel. If that's the case, any carbon that's released doesn't matter, as the forest's life cycle is only about 20 years.

        I, for one, am willing to give Volvo the benefit of the doubt.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Reforming typically reacts the hydrocarbon or carbon fuel with steam at high temperatures, so some of the hydrogen comes from the water. In the case of Octane, one C8H18 plus sixteen H2O results in eight CO2 and twenty-five H2. In the initial part of the reaction, considerable carbon monoxide CO is produced, but that can be seperated from the H2 and re-reacted with more steam to form more H2 and CO2.

        GM had done some testing of onboard steam reforming, and dropped it in favor of pre-made hydrogen, as the reformer was expensive, water had to be supplied, and the overall efficiency wasn't much better than what could be achieved with a less expensive hybrid setup. It is not yet clear how much, if any, improvement has been made in onboard reformers since GM had tried and abandoned that technology, Volvo end up dropping it just as GM did.

        A better approach would be to use a fuel cell that can run directly on a hydrocarbon fuel, thus eliminating any reformer and the need to carry water, and improving the efficiency by about 30%. Solid Oxide fuel cells are one such candidate.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Addition: The other part of the split liquid fuel will most prominently be carbon which will bond to oxygen to form CO2. So the reformer will produce significant amounts of CO2 if the hydrogen content of the fuel is low.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Well that is an amusing science experiment.

      But I bet you get more range out of the petrol by just burning in an ICE for your range extender that by reforming it and running it through a fuel cell.

      Though if you must absolutely have a fuel cell, this at least won't cost a couple of trillion in new infrastructure.

        • 4 Years Ago
        I see in that article where it says that they want to make stacks that last 5,000 hours, but where did you hear that current stacks have actually lasted 120,000 miles? I'm not saying it isn't true, just that I haven't heard that and in 5 minuets of googleing I can only find article that predict they will make such stacks in the future.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I thought I saw somewhere current fuel cells only had about a 10,000 mile lifespan
        • 4 Years Ago
        "I thought I saw somewhere current fuel cells only had about a 10,000 mile lifespan"

        Nope - or else you've been reading articles written a over decade ago.

        . Current stacks are targeting 5000 hours, which translates to about 150,000 miles. GM's fifth-generation stack is already around 120,000 miles in durability testing.


        Of course, when used as a range extender, a fuel cell stack's lifespan would be spread out over many more miles, since the stack would only be used when the battery is drained, just as the ICE range extender in the Karma and the Volt only runs after the first battery-driven miles.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Must have been an old article I read, or possibly mistook hours for miles, here they're talking about some 6000 and 7000 hr units.

        • 4 Years Ago
        They said two lasted that long. They are monitoring 4 transit groups. How long did the others last? It looks like very biased reporting to me.

        Anyway, this Volvo is a publicity stunt, nothing more. On board reformation has been largely deemed impractical.

        With a large battery and a Reformer and Gas tank on board, they are likely running a small fuel cell and running it nearly constantly, perhaps 10KW output to keep extend the life of the battery, but once the battery is exhausted it would be limp home mode.

        • 4 Years Ago
        And considering the hydrogen content percentage of current liquid fuels, you would need a tank the size of a full ICE vehicle to even get the quoted 155 miles range extension.

        After a second look this seems quite silly really.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think a fari assessment of this has to look at the broad front that Volvo, Sweden and China are looking at improving expertise on.
      For instance, one of the criticisms put forward here is that this merely perpetuates burning fossil fuels.
      Not in Sweden it doesn't, as this is part of a drive to bio-fuels, where again they are doing broad front R & D, looking at all sorts of variants, from producing artificial diesels to DME and methane under compresession or liquidised.
      One of the many strands of development is diesel augmented with natural gas, or biogas, so that the reckoning that you only get around 16% hydrogen is at best premature.
      Many of the criticisms are in fact just too early, it is not appropriate to attempt detailed evaluations of efficiency and so on when the work is at the stage of getting the basic system to work, rather than optimisation.

      The lifetime of this fuel cell may be very different to others, as it has to deal with the level of purity that the reformer can manage.
      The Koreans have hit 120,000 hours in a normal fuel cell, and are shooting for 150,000 by 2015, but as I said the problems in using an on-board reformer make this a different ball game.
      I would normally provide links to the claim of the 120,000 life, but my main computer is down which has the link, and the old one I am using makes searching the web a real pain, so perhaps folk here will bear with me on this occasion if I do not research out the link again, which is in any case not directly relevant to the main argument in hand, that Volvo are, wisely in my view, trying to engineer a whole sheaf of solutions to see what they can make work rather than getting too theoretical about it and so making themselves prey to false assumptions.

      I would personally agree with the theoretical idea that a high temperature fuel cell sounds a better way to go, but Volvo are sucking it and seeing with a lot of different approaches, and getting your hands dirty is way better than Aristotelian conjecture.
      • 4 Years Ago
      An ICE based range extender by Chevy costs $41K after 5 years of development. How much will a fuel cell based range extender by Volvo cost ? $150K after 10 years in development ?
        • 4 Years Ago
        If your assumptions are right then it will undoubtedly not be worthwhile. The engineers at Volvo obviously think that there is a significant chance that they can reduce costs to a competitive level. That is why they are getting their hands dirty and finding out.
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