Could this be the automobile sector's version of the Reese's Peanut Butter cup? Paris-based Symbio is proposing something akin to mixing chocolate with peanut butter (never a bad thing, in our book) with the idea of adding a hydrogen fuel-cell range extender to a Renault electric vehicle.

Enter the HyKangoo.

Symbio is working with La Poste, France's postal service, and the vehicles in question are Renault Kangoo ZE vans. Those vehicles can go about 100 miles on a single charge in the best of situations, but between bad weather and hilly terrain, the realistic range is quite a bit less. Since most French postal vans travel more than 60 miles a day, going the pure EV route is a close call. Enter the HyKangoo (yep, that's what they're called). Symbio is adding a fuel-cell range-extender to the ZE, which expands the van's range to about 200 miles, all while keeping them emissions free. It's certainly an improvement over the current diesel-powered vans that La Poste uses and quite possibly the most advanced vehicle the French mail system has used since starting in 1576.

The cost? Not cheap. Symbio is targeting a pricetag of about 35,000 euros (about $48,000 US) once series production is achieved, according to Ecomento. That's another way of saying the cost is higher today. You can read more about this intriguing proposition as spelled out by Symbio in the press release below.
Show full PR text
Symbio FCell equips French Mail Post with Fuel Cell Range Extenders

DECEMBER 10, 2013, BREAKING NEWS!
The Franche-Comté region and La Poste (French postal service) are testing hydrogen based range extender kits from Symbio FCell in Renault Kangoo Z.E. electric mail delivery vehicles.

As part of a performance validation test in real working conditions, the Renault Kangoo Z.E. electric vehicles used by La Poste will be equipped with hydrogen fuel cell range extender kits by Symbio FCell. They will be deployed in the first quarter of 2014 on mail delivery platforms. These vehicles, with a combination of a hydrogen fuel cell and batteries, offer an extended range that performs even under the most demanding conditions: mail routes of 100 km or more through the cold, hilly and mountainous terrain. This system is expected to double the range of the electric cars used for postal delivery. This series of tests aims to demonstrate the advantages of the hydrogen fuel cell solution and verify that the extended range electric vehicles are practically the same as a diesel in terms of availability, flexibility and autonomy.

"The fuel cell solution improves winter working conditions for postal workers by providing better heating and defogging without impacting battery performance, "says Mr Jean-François Courtoy, Industrial Director at La Poste in Franche Comté. "In addition, it makes replacing the diesel vehicles that are used today for longer routes possible. This will significantly improve our level of global CO2 emissions".

The project is certified by the competitiveness cluster Pôle Vehicle of the Future and co-financed by the European regional development Fund (ERDF), the Franche-Comté Regional Council, the Belfort Territory General Council, the Belfort Urban Community and the Greater Dole Urban Community.

"Our role is to assess and facilitate development, but also to encourage the useful application of this breakthrough technology by citizens, entrepreneurs and policy makers," says Florent Petit, in charge of project management and Director at the UTBM (Belfort-Montbéliard University of Technology, a part of the FCellSYS platform, in collaboration with the LITEN Institute at the CEA - the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission).

"Symbio FCell is proud to participate in the improvement of urban area environments by facilitating the deployment of electric vehicles," says Fabio Ferrari, CEO at Symbio FCell, a hydrogen fuel cell and electric hybrid technology provider. "As of today, we can demonstrate that with long range electrical solutions, a viable business model exists for zero emission city center delivery."


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  • 42 Comments
      paulwesterberg
      • 7 Months Ago
      Hydrogen as a range extender does help to reduce worries about the fuel cell lifespan and allows a smaller/cheaper fuel cell to power to a full sized vehicle because it can be brought into service before the batteries are fully depleted. Fleet vehicles like this can use a few central fueling stations and have less problems with the lack of hydrogen infrastructure daily recharging will also reduce the need to refuel. Too bad Toyota & Hyundai and others are not pursuing such a more balanced strategy like this.
      paulwesterberg
      • 7 Months Ago
      > The cost? Not cheap. Really? Being sold for $48,000 makes this is the cheapest hydrogen vehicle I have ever heard of.
        JakeY
        • 7 Months Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        Actually doing the math, given the system in the Kangoo is apparently only 5kW (thanks to DarylMc for spotting this) and a Kangoo ZE costs 20k Euros, they are guessing about 15k Euros (~20.6k USD) for their 5kW system or 3000 Euros per kW ($4100/kW). That does seem quite expensive, although to get a better sense, we would need to see proposed pricing for the 20kW unit too.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          LTAW: Yep, in this sort of early testing thing are often not cut and dried, and we are looking at the info they have got around to translating from the French. The obvious answer to me, and what I would do myself, is that they are testing both 5wh and 10kw stacks in the application - its hilly and sometimes cold there!
          DarylMc
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          Hi DaveMart Page 14 Kangoo ZE 5kW RE http://www.afhypac.org/images/documents/symbiofcell_ecartech2013.pdf
          DarylMc
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          Hi DaveMart Where did you see the 10kW figure. I couldn't find it anywhere.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          The press materials are rather confusing. Some indicate a single hydrogen tank, others show two.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          'ALP10 5 kW FC stack, Air loop and H2 loop systems, Electronic DC/DC converter, control command system, CAN/Ethernet/WiFi/3G supervision and management systems, 74l hydrogen tank 20 years service lifetime guaranteed, 35mpa,EC79-2009 and SAE J2600 standard compliant' Since they are based on modular 5kw stacks, I am guessing that the name 'ALP10' means that there are in fact two stacks in this unit, although they don't specify that. All the bits other than the stacks themselves would be common to the two systems, including importantly the hydrogen tanks. At this stage of the game 3,000 Euros/kw does not seem unreasonable though, so it might be 5kw. They've got to hit that price yet however, and that is not a sure thing with such early stage technology. No one is saying that this is price competitive right now, at least if no credit is given for zero emissions.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          Daryl: I didn't, but hypothesised it from the name, the ALP10, as shown in the link above. Here: http://www.symbiofcell.com/sol-re.html They show a picture of the ALP5 I assumed the numerals are the kws.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          BTW, If I were testing, I would stick 5kw in one, and 10kw in another. I dunno about the third one!
        JakeY
        • 7 Months Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        If they actually sell it this year, it'll be the only hydrogen vehicle with a price tag (so both cheapest and most expensive).
      Marco Polo
      • 7 Months Ago
      An interesting development in FCV technology. The French postal service,Symbio FCell, ERDF and all the organisations funding this research, are to be congratulated for sponsoring this trial. For Renault, anything that adds to the performance of it's brilliant little Kangoo ZE van, is good news. The light delivery vehicle market is a much neglected sector in EV development. A FCV-EV hybrid light commercial vehicle would appear to have terrific potential, as the vehicles often share depots with H2 powered forklifts, so the initial objections arising from of a lack of refuelling infrastructure, would be less relevant. It will be interesting to see how the technology progresses, and if other light commercial manufacturers develop this option.
      JakeY
      • 7 Months Ago
      Seems like Renault has nothing to do with testing this other than this company buying their vans to convert, so the title is a bit misleading. As for the idea, it's similar to the London cabs that used a hydrogen range extender for the Olympics (although it seems they have now opted for cabs with gasoline range extenders and with larger batteries). Should work for fleets. The cabs here use a 10kW fuel cell, not enough for highway power, but should be enough for local travel.
        DaveMart
        • 7 Months Ago
        @JakeY
        There is far greater co-ordination by the Government than in Anglo Saxon countries, and the whole development of electric cars was premised on fleet orders by quasi government organisations like La Poste. The electrification drive by La Poste is hand in glove with Renault. Since the fuel cell is integrated with the battery and other electrics, it would presumably be a lot tougher to do without the co-operation of Renault. Similar efforts in the US, for instance putting fuel cells in Smith Electric trucks for Fed-Ex and UPS also and fuel cells in buses also seem to be co-ordinated efforts, for understandable reasons. The fuel cell system is not limited to 10kw, although that is enough for stop start postal work: 'The Symbio FCell range extender solution is based on a modular system and ranges from 5 kW to 20 kW (based on 5 kW stacks). This modular system reduces production costs and address the power requirement portfolio of diverse vehicle markers. The Symbio FCell offer includes standard CAN-Bus and electrical interfaces, cooling output and maintenance software.' http://www.greencarcongress.com/2013/12/20131211-sfc.html#more There are of course packaging considerations, but Nissan/Renault seem to be about to offer battery packs with around double the present energy density, which would make more space available should the combination with fuel cells be a good idea for any particular application.
        DarylMc
        • 7 Months Ago
        @JakeY
        Hi JakeY I read 5kW fuel cell from the link DaveMart posted. http://www.symbiofcell.com/downl/hykangoo-uk2013.pdf
          JakeY
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          I was going by the report below which says 10kW, but you are right, the pdf only says 5kW. http://gas2.org/2013/12/11/hydrogen-fuel-cells-double-renault-ev-range/
        JakeY
        • 7 Months Ago
        @JakeY
        Maybe there is cooperation, maybe not, but I would expect the press release to mention it at least in passing if there is. The impression I got from the press release is that it's an independent conversion which the vehicle manufacturer has almost nothing to do with other than selling the vehicle to them (like the VIA conversion of GM trucks and Destino conversion of the Fisker Karma). As for the configuration, yes the company offers up to 20kW for their system, but for this particular "HyKangoo", it's 10kW.
          JakeY
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          Given it's only 10kW, they can tap into the connection for the onboard charging system (which can 22kW charging) and it shouldn't be that difficult a conversion. Otherwise they might need to tap into the regen circuit or another direct connection (which may be tougher). They might need permission from Renault to do the modifications given the battery lease (depends on terms of battery lease and what encompasses a battery modification vs a vehicle modification), but I don't see why they really need cooperation (other that permission at the most). In any case, there's no evidence Renault is involved in any of the "testing" (but rather it's La Poste doing the testing), and I suspect the headline was conceived similar to the one below, but instead Danny swapped "La Poste" for "Renault". "La Poste testing hydrogen fuel cell range extenders in Renault Kangoo Z.E. mail delivery vehicles" http://www.greencarcongress.com/2013/12/20131211-sfc.html
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          As you say Renault must be at least permissive, so some level of involvement is not in question, only the degree. According to fuel cell today, it is indeed a cooperation: 'Symbio is working with the automaker to integrate fuel cells into the Kangoo electric vehicle and has an order from the French postal service for a small fleet of the vehicles.' http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/analysis/event-reports/2013/fc-expo-2013
          JakeY
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          @Davemart "As you say Renault must be at least permissive" Not necessarily if the battery lease does not exclude it (as this is a vehicle modification, not a battery one). But in any rate no matter the involvement, I think the headline is misleading as it says Renault is actually testing the vehicles, while all the reporting I find is that La Poste and Symbio is doing the testing. "According to fuel cell today, it is indeed a cooperation" Yes I'm looking for something like that, but rather direct from the primary source saying Renault is doing testing (either Renault or Symbio or Le Poste), not only third party reported (which may be wrong, just like I suspect this headline is).
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          Its an ABG headline, you should know about them by now! ;-) The testing, or at least the certification of the testing, is under the auspices of a French public body: 'The Office of Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA) is a public research organization working in four main areas: low-carbon energy, information and health care technologies, Very Large Research Infrastructures (TGIR), defense and global security. Based on excellence in fundamental research and recognized expertise, the CEA is involved in the development of collaborative projects with many academic and industrial partners. With its 16,000 researchers and collaborators, it is a major player in the European Research Area and has a growing international presence.' http://www.symbiofcell.com/live-news.html In France I can't imagine a public body like that with any connections to transport which Renault is not deeply involved with. Its a bit like imagining a US Government without links to GM!
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          Renault lease batteries, they don't sell them, and the guarantee would be voided if people fooled around integrating them into a fuel cell system etc, so it seems difficult to imagine that this is without Renault's co-operation, especially since they are working with La Poste in electrifying their fleet. What would they tell their biggest customer? That they didn't want to play? :-)
      goodoldgorr
      • 7 Months Ago
      That should bring together in haze of joy battery and hydrogen proponents as this little truck have both technology.
      DaveMart
      • 7 Months Ago
      Just a note lifted from a comment on another blog on why so few electric cars get sold in France: 'Then there’s the local way of life : -The French holiday phenomenon : people go on holiday using their cars (skiing in winter or to the beach in summer). It’s very difficult for a french car owner to imagine buying a car he can’t go on holiday with, so the Zoe can only be the second car of the home… -Even if the french car owner actually goes on holiday using the high speed train, he’ll still prefer having a car able to do long range driving, just in case… -The higher concentration of population in dense city centers and the abundance of quality public transit in cities significantly reduces the need and the market for a second car. (I am french)' http://insideevs.com/eclipse-of-renault-zoe-sales-continues-in-france-as-nissan-leaf-takes-over/ (K-lein)
      DaveMart
      • 7 Months Ago
      View showing the hydrogen tank in place here: http://ecomento.com/2014/01/30/hydrogen-fuel-cell-range-extenders-perfect-solutions-french-investigate/ And specifications here: http://www.symbiofcell.com/downl/hykangoo-uk2013.pdf Whether or not the US builds hydrogen fuel stations, they are being built in Europe, and in enough quantity that a hydrogen RE should be perfectly practical and would provide near enough ICE car range with zero emissions at point of use. One advantage of hydrogen in this application is that it does not 'go off' in the tank the way petrol does, and although the hydrogen can permeate tanks they have been tested extensively and hold the hydrogen with negligble losses for months.
        DarylMc
        • 7 Months Ago
        @DaveMart
        Hi DaveMart It seemed a little unclear from the spec sheet but the article you linked claims 200 mile total range. I think the fuel cell is worthwhile to investigate but this sort of distance could be done fairly simply with a DC fast charge or two during the day. Though waste heat from the fuel cell could possibly tilt the scales favourably in your part of the world. Hope you are high and dry over there. Regarding hydrogen fuel storage, I think there has been a bit of confusion here. Liquid hydrogen stored in a cryogenic tank is designed to boil off a percentage per day. FCV's using high pressure hydrogen gas tanks wont have such a problem as you mention.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          "The 22kWh battery is going to take around 4 hours to charge from the fuel cell once vs around half an hour for the battery vehicle (DC fast)." Rather than running the battery flat, and only then turning on the FC to recharge it, I think it more likely that the FC would be kept running continuously to keep a steady charge going into the battery throughout the operation.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          @Daryl: You could do it by fast charging, but you would have to build the fast chargers en route, which is more complex than having a hydrogen pump at the depot. In the mountains where this is being used initially if the weather really closes down I would not fancy being in an EV on low charge looking for the charge point, the fc car has more room for error. You are also going to be giving your batteries a hammering, whereas they will be in a nice steady state of charge with a fuel cell RE. For commercial use, it will be relative lifetime costs which determine how batteries and fuel cells are used.
          DarylMc
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Hi DaveMart Yeah the figures are all over the place but as far as I can see it is standard Kangoo drive plus the FCV gear. I see that 80km/150km range and that is what they are suggesting for real world delivery use. Anyway in both examples it gives double range. So would a single fast charge (assuming the Kangoo has that). With only 5kW fuel cell for the hybrid, the battery vehicle (DC fast charged) should be able to do the same distance as the hybrid in a shorter time. The 22kWh battery is going to take around 4 hours to charge from the fuel cell once vs around half an hour for the battery vehicle (DC fast). To me the fuel cell version seems likely to be useful for an extreme cold environment with less than 150km route spread over a whole day.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Daryl: Check out LTAW's link, page 15: It gives the weight of a battery pack at 410kg for 80km of range in mild weather (city driving) For the hybrid you go up to 475kg but get 150km range in all weathers. The reason for the interest is clear. I think that Nissan/Renault will be able to about double battery density shortly. That does not mean that the fc RE is dead, but it does mean that the weight ration would become much more competitive with diesel.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          It looks as though I was too optimistic in saying that fast charging on a routine basis is acceptable on a routine basis even for very tough iron phosphate chemistries. Here is how it is working out for taxis in China, where there are a lot on the road to enable evaluation: 'While there are express stations that can charge the vehicles within one and a half hours, doing so cuts battery life in half,' http://www.scmp.com/news/china-insider/article/1405513/woes-beijings-electric-taxi-drivers So unless the fast charge cycle life performance of Nissan's new batteries is absolutely stonking, basically a battery breakthrough, then an RE either petrol or fuel cell would seem the only practical current or near current option for the range needed.
          DarylMc
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          DaveMart Good point. The batteries should cycle a lot less for a given task.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Wow Jake, I don't know where to start. The 160 km of MILD weather range if you simply doubled the capacity by using the new batteries is not going to get you round the route if the weather turns cold and nasty, and you don't want to stop in the mountains in winter. So you get into a losing game of increasing the battery pack size and increasing weight. As I have linked extensively, Nissan has not 'recently decided to use NMC' but had it in an advanced state of development in 2009, and knew then it would take them to around 2015 to get it ready for mass production. You are the first one I have heard of to imagine that doubling density by using silicon etc is relatively easy. Not even the very bullish Musk can see any major advances for 4-5 years, which is basically forever in that world. The iron phosphate battery that BYD uses is notoriously tough with long cycle life, way more than anything except lithium titanate. That is why they are using it in all the applications like buses where you are doing a lot of rapid charging. Its not as high as some fast charger rates, but way higher than you use charging at home etc. I'm not denying that batteries may be able to do the job, as they develop, but we are nowhere near having anything on the shelf able to do it at the moment in my opinion. That is why all the delivery van people and many of the electric bus ones are trying fuel cell range extenders. They would not be doing that if it were as easy to use batteries for the purpose as you claim.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Jake Y: From the illustration they have included the electric motor in the weights given. I have commented extensively on the double density battery pack from Nissan/Renault but I don't think it kills the case for fuel cell RE's at all, although the areas where batteries and fuel cells are applied are going to be across a shifting boundary. Taking their engine weight as 110kg and halving the battery weight to 150kg gives you 260kg, which with the 65kg for the fuel cell system comes to 325kg, as against 370kg for the diesel system, and weight translates to load in commercial vehicles, so on that metric at least they would at last be fully commercial, which is very nice indeed. You could double the range alternatively by increasing the battery without the fuel cell, so that 160km would play 150km. But the fuel cell system range is all weather, the battery system mild weather only. The battery systems range would plummet in the cold. I like my delivery systems robust, and in areas with inclement weather would be strongly inclined to the fuel cell system. Really, I just want progress wherever we can find it, and am perfectly happy to have the first fuel cell hybrids fight it our with the higher density Nissan/Renault batteries! I would be very surprised if both don't find a place, especially since I think upping the battery density any more than that will be very, very tough.
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          There are usually more than one solution to an engineering problem. However delivery vehicles mostly seem to be looking to fuel cells as the favoured solution for getting more range than batteries can comfortably provide for long runs where zero emissions are important.
          JakeY
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          @DaveMart 410kg for 80km is 900 lbs for 50 miles of city range. The Kangoo ZE gets 115 miles of NEDC range on a 22kWh pack which should weigh 300kg (Leaf's 24kWh pack weigh using the same modules), so not sure where they got those numbers. Nissan is about to release a double density pack that costs only up to $5000 extra (from their survey; I was expecting twice that so the relatively low price as a surprise to me), which might immediately kill any business case for this range extender.
          DarylMc
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Re DC fast charging I imagine the postal routes are quite fixed and that at some stage during the day the driver will stop for lunch. Fast charging to double the range still seems a good option to me.
          DarylMc
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Yeah battery improvements will help the range extenders case v diesel too.
          DarylMc
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Hi LTAW That would be the way to do it. Still 4 hours though. You could drive 2 x 1 hour stints in the battery version, have a fast charge in between and still be ahead. I wasn't suggesting the RE could not be useful for certain applications but it has it's own set of pros and cons.
          JakeY
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          @DaveMart "You could double the range alternatively by increasing the battery without the fuel cell, so that 160km would play 150km." And that increase would only cost you $5000 vs $20000 for the fuel cell. So that's what I mean about the business case. If both cost the same, then sure, the fuel cell might still have a business case. "I would be very surprised if both don't find a place, especially since I think upping the battery density any more than that will be very, very tough." Nissan is only recently proposing a move to NMC, while Tesla has already moved to NCA for the Model S. It's actually still relatively easy to double density once again: silicon anodes and high voltage electrolyte. "While there are express stations that can charge the vehicles within one and a half hours, doing so cuts battery life in half" That only shows the battery BYD uses is quite horrible (general cathode chemistry is not the only factor; electrolyte, separators, and the exact formulation is quite important too). 1.5 hours isn't even quick charging. Nissan's current battery actually isn't suffering from quick charging, but rather heat (supposedly addressed in the 2014 Leaf).
          DaveMart
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Fast charging is acceptable on a routine basis in BYD's lithium iron phosphate technology, which is why it is being used extensively in taxis and buses. Unfortunately that is not very energy dense. Nissan's current LMO technology doesn't like routine fast charging at all, and in fact they only recommend routinely charging even at regular speed to 80% capacity. NMC tends to be a bit tougher than LMO, but not so much so as iron phosphate. We really simply don't know how it will stand up to routine fast charging until we see the specs. You don't want to have to replace an expensive battery pack too often, so at the moment we don't know if fast charging in this application is even on the cards.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 7 Months Ago
        @DaveMart
        Here's a little more info (with illustrations), comparing the same Kangoo with BEV, FCV, and diesel drivetrains. http://www.afhypac.org/images/documents/symbiofcell_ecartech2013.pdf
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