One of the major hurdles with hydrogen cars has been a lack of fueling infrastructure compared with the very extensive network of gasoline and ethanol stations. Nissan, who is also developing a more conventional fuel cell technology together with Daimler AG and Ford Motor Company, is also focusing on a completely new system called "e-bio" fuel cell.
In a traditional fuel cell system, the vehicle is fueled by pressurized hydrogen pumped into a high-pressure tank at a special service station. The e-bio system enables hydrogen to be generated from bio-ethanol inside the car using a special reformer to generate hydrogen on-board, meaning the vehicle can be filled with a relatively commonly available fuel at a conventional pump. Nissan also says the ethanol can consist of up to 55 percent water to make it cheaper to fuel up.
There are still a number of issues Nissan has to tackle before the system can be put to use: heat management needs some work, as the system works at a very high temperature and takes a good while to heat up. Temperature changes also have an effect on the system's durability.
Nissan says the new e-bio fuel cell system is not zero emission, because the hydrogen reformation releases carbon dioxide instead of only heat and water vapor, like a reformer-less fuel cell car. The manufacturer does say the system is carbon neutral since the plants that are used to produce ethanol also absorb CO2.