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Transportation Power Hardware

Gas Powered Fuel Cell Could Help EV Range Anxiety 162

Posted by Soulskill
from the so-can-prozac dept.
thecarchik writes "While electric-car advocates may avoid the issue, some buyers simply won't choose a plug-in car that can't travel unlimited distances. That's where the Chevy Volt-style range extender comes in, though the Volt adds unlimited range by burning gasoline in a conventional engine to generate electric power. Now, a new type of fuel cell offers the potential for a different kind of range extender, one that removes the enormous practical problem facing hydrogen fuel cells: the lack of a distribution infrastructure to fuel vehicles that require pure hydrogen to feed their fuel cells. Researchers at the University of Maryland have managed to shrink the size and lower the operating temperature of a solid-oxide fuel cell by a factor of 10, meaning it could conceivably produce as much power as a car engine but occupy less space. The advances come from new materials for the solid electrolyte, as well as design changes, and the researchers feel they have further avenues for improvement left to explore."
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Gas Powered Fuel Cell Could Help EV Range Anxiety

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  • They say the most Harley owners 'detune' their new bikes just to get the right sound out of the muffler. With the way that things might be going, I wonder if some won't miss their cars making engine sounds, not to mention blind people.
    • by sexconker (1179573) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @07:38PM (#38286240)

      They say the most Harley owners 'detune' their new bikes just to get the right sound out of the muffler. With the way that things might be going, I wonder if some won't miss their cars making engine sounds, not to mention blind people.

      Most noise from a car comes not from the engine, but from the tires (unless you have specifically modified your vehicle to be loud, which is often illegal).
      Road noise is the main contributor to the overall loudness of a vehicle.

      • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @07:48PM (#38286330)

        Most noise from a car comes not from the engine, but from the tires

        Someone hasnt been around electric vehicles much. Theyre everywhere in shanghai, and they are substantially quieter than non-electrics (nearly silent).

      • by gman003 (1693318) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @07:48PM (#38286334)

        This is (generally) true - at highway speeds, the vast majority of the sound is either aerodynamic or from the tires impacting the road. Even at 25mph/50kmph, you'll get more than enough sound from that to warn pedestrians.

        The problem is at parking lot speeds. You don't get much noise at all just moving at 5mph/10kmph. Even with a gas engine, it's mostly the acceleration that provides the noise, the engine revving up, not the engine just running.

        Since the main time pedestrians and cars are maneuvering near each other and have significant risk of collision is in precisely those situations, I think the "electric engines don't make enough noise" problem could actually be a legitimate problem. By no means a showstopper or a product-killer - after all, a car is usually a pretty large object, and I for one tend to notice large objects in motion. The solution could be just a simple "noise generator used when moving below X speed" - that would handle the pedestrian problem, without increasing noise in areas where noise is an issue and pedestrians are not.

        • by meerling (1487879)
          To a certain extent I agree with you, but you forget a few relevant points. They are working to make internal combustion cars much quieter, mostly for the comfort of the users. I have encountered a few cars (non-electric gas suckers) that when at those "parking lot speeds", the tires make more noise than the engine, and that's not even on gravel. Of course, the background noise of the city is primarily what is masking it. Of course, if you damp down the city noise by silencing so many motors, how much easie
          • by Rakishi (759894)

            By the way, in this city, the crosswalks have noise makers for blind or visually impaired people, and you aren't allowed to cross against the light, even if you can't see it. So I guess the biggest threat from a totally silent car would be if they didn't watch where they were going when a blind person tried to cross the street illegally against the light.

            First time I've heard of a place where you can't make right turns on a green light.

            • by dryeo (100693)

              There's a few jurisdictions in N. America where it is illegal to make a right on a green light and the corresponding left if the streets are one way. Actually according to Wikipedia, those jurisdictions that didn't used to allow a right turn on red have all updated to allowing it excepting New York City, Montreal, and most of Mexico.
              Only 37 States seem to allow the left on red if one way though and the rules vary.
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_turn_on_red [wikipedia.org]

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          You know, I think the big problem with cars is people not looking out when they're going to cross the street. I say we let darwin be darwin, and if someone is getting eaten by a car. It's doing the gene pool a favor.

      • Huh, wuzzat? I couldn't hear you over the sound of all the assholes driving Harleys and jacked-up monster pick-up trucks.

    • by mr1911 (1942298)

      They say the most Harley owners 'detune' their new bikes just to get the right sound out of the muffler.

      Listening to "they" is often hazardous to one's intelligence.

      With the way that things might be going, I wonder if some won't miss their cars making engine sounds, not to mention blind people.

      For some, possibly. For most, unlikely as long as the entertainment system is working.

    • by Narcocide (102829)

      Actually its likely that for safety reasons the car manufacturers will all start adding sound effects to the vehicles.

      • by mark-t (151149)

        Are they going to eliminate mufflers as well?

        Because last time I checked, on most new cars you can't really hear a gasoline engine either unless it is actively being revved up.

        The sound of tires on the road is *FAR* louder than the engine, in general... unless the car's muffler is bad, or unless the car is simply very old.

        Should people on electric wheelchairs also install noisemakers to alert blind people of their approach? (some of them are capable of quite a clip, and can do serious damage to someo

        • by Narcocide (102829)

          This [worldcarfans.com] is not the first time it has been proposed either.

          The sound of tires on the road is *FAR* louder than the engine, in general... unless the car's muffler is bad, or unless the car is simply very old.

          WTF type of giant knobby off-road truck tires do you put on your effing honda civic anyway? This statement is hyperbolic to say the least.

          • by mark-t (151149)

            I wasn't suggesting it is the first time it's been proposed... I just think that the whole proposal is idiotic.

            Good mufflers make the engine on most modern cars are silent enough that a pedestrian is not generally liable to hear the engine on a moving car at all unless the driver is revving the engine.

            In my experience, the loudest sound on a moving automobile is the sound of the tires on the road, and as a pedestrian, that's almost always what I hear first, unless the car is an older one or else the mu

            • And hey... even at best, installing noisemakers in electric cars just wastes electricity that can be better used to get a person to their destination.

              Well, it depends. As long as it uses less power than what's needed to accelerate back to speed after bouncing Grandpa off the hood, it's a net gain, right?
        • by meerling (1487879)
          There are several people around here in fast electric wheelchairs on some of the roads, including an elderly couple that go everywhere together. I haven't actually clocked them, but I'm pretty sure they get up to about 30mph. They've got red pennant flags on antenna poles to make sure the cars can see them.
      • by mikestew (1483105)

        Already done (I think it's US Federal Law). Our Leaf thankfully has a switch to turn off the "chime...chime...chime" that I'm sure our neighbors would otherwise never tire of hearing every time we back out of the garage. There's also supposed to be a noise (switchable as well) emitted moving forward below 19mph, though I can't hear it from inside the car.

        I switch off the noisy merry-making when I think about it, and I haven't mowed down any pedestrians yet. I can't tell if it makes any difference in ped beh

        • by meerling (1487879) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @09:03PM (#38286956)
          If they're like the University students around here, they'll step out into moving traffic without looking even if you were driving an F-111 with afterburners on full blast.
      • by ganjadude (952775)
        they are already looking into it

        http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303365804576432253649731740.html
      • by Adriax (746043) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @08:07PM (#38286514)

        Woo, ringtones for your car, that'll be awesome...

        • Woo, ringtones for your car, that'll be awesome...

          Where can I download the sound of Sebulba's pod racer?

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @08:12PM (#38286558) Journal

      They say the most Harley owners 'detune' their new bikes just to get the right sound out of the muffler.

      Harley engines get the "right" sound out of the muffler because of their unique firing pattern.
      The cyclinders do not fire every 180 degrees, instead they fire every 315 and 405 degrees of crankshaft turn.

      It's funny how we have electric cars today, but all the technology that'll make them a true replacement for ICE is 5~20 years away.
      And internal combustion hasn't really been pushed to its maximum efficiency yet, so who knows how long it'll actually take.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by viperidaenz (2515578)

        ICE can't be pushed anymore without using higher quality fuels. Tell me how much it'll cost to fill your car with methanol. You will be able in increase the compression ratio and add a turbo charger as well to increase the efficiency of your ICE. Its just not practical to use methanol in cars.

        My car was designed to use 100 octane petrol that's available in Japan, but in NZ we don't have that. The ECU compensates for this by retarding the timing so it doesn't knock, lowering the efficiency of the engine.

    • They say the most Harley owners 'detune' their new bikes just to get the right sound out of the muffler. With the way that things might be going, I wonder if some won't miss their cars making engine sounds, not to mention blind people.

      Come on, man, hasn't anybody else seen The Delimma [imdb.com]?

  • by morethanapapercert (749527) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @07:37PM (#38286232)
    At first glance, the summary fails to say how this development (which appears to make demand more likely) manages to ease the problems on the supply-side of the hydrogen fuel cell option. What it didn't include is the information that a solid oxide fuel cell can conceivably burn any hydrocarbon fuel stock. TFA mentions gasoline, diesel, natural gas and propane. The idea is that a fuel cell extracts more energy from hydrocarbon fuels than the pitiful 25% claimed for ICE technology. What isn't stated is whether this new fuel cell can handle any of the hydrocarbon fuels without any hardware changes. e.g. pipe in propane or natural gas or supply liquid diesel or gasoline for either gas or liquid based fuelling.
    • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @09:03PM (#38286958) Journal
      Additives are going to kill it. The article is notably silent about the additives. In a lab they can feed the fuel cell "pure" gasoline or "pure" diesel and show it can work. Or feed it stock fuels, show it works and ask the graduate students slogging at minimum wage to dismantle the stack and clean it for the next demo. But in reality the fuel at the pump has detergents to prevent fuel injector fouling, anti-freeze to prevent water-contamination leading ice formation in the fuel lines, and a host of other additives to prevent evaporation etc etc. All these are not hydro carbons. If you don't burn them at high temperatures and flush them out using air flow, they will be deposited on the fuel cell surfaces.

      Technically the pumps can store pure hydro carbons and mix them with additives at the delivery nozzle, the way the mix 87 and 93 octane fuel to create 90 octane. But it is still a major infrastructure upgrade.

      Despite all this, if the technology bears out, it would be a great thing. But let us not raise our hopes prematurely, only to seem them smashed down, yet another time.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        Use 93 octane gas. This has the fewest additives. (I know it's not a cure-all; but this fixes the breakage happening in chainsaws when fed 87, 89 or 91 gas, which generally has ethanol added.)
    • by Pseudonym (62607)

      I'm shocked that nobody else queried what reducing the operating temperature by a factor of 10 means. Let's say the operating temperature was 470 Kelvin. The new operating temperature would, therefore, be 47K, or -226C. Reduce it by another factor of 2 or so and you could run it on liquid hydrogen.

  • Is the article saying they've developed a gasoline-based fuel cell that you can recharge at a 'fueling station', with which you can generate electricity to power your electric car?

    Doesn't this just turn your EV into a less-efficient gasoline-powered vehicle?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Solandri (704621)

      Doesn't this just turn your EV into a less-efficient gasoline-powered vehicle?

      There's a common misconception that because an EV puts out no emissions, that it's 100% clean. And that because electric motors are 80%-90% efficient, EVs are 80%-90% efficient.

      About 2/3rds of electricity is generated from fossil fuels, burned in power stations operating at about 40% efficiency. So if you can get the efficiency of this gizmo high enough, you could actually exceed the overall efficiency of plug-in EVs. The t

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        However unlike motor vehicles, the extreme pollution is not located within the city and for more stringent pollution controls are fitted to the energy generating medium.

        It is to be expected, once sufficient momentum is gained by electric vehicles, pollution generating vehicles will simply be banned.

      • by Nemyst (1383049)

        Depends entirely where you live and what you've set up. If you have solar panels/geothermal/whatever or live in one of the better (luckier?) countries of the world on the energy front, you can do much better than ~10% renewables.

        • by sincewhen (640526)

          Also, I can (and do) pay extra on my electricity bill and have my power provided by 100% renewable sources.

      • I would rather power my car with American coal, gas, or nukes, than with imported oil. Though LFTRs would be my first choice, if there's a chicken-and-egg problem, I say just pick one and fucking start with vehicular electrification already.

      • You don't want to replace coal fired plants with oil fired ones. Remember that in these cells the carbon is just along for the ride. Only the hydrogen's energy is converted to electricity.

        Google Direct Carbon Fuel Cell.

        This is one that works with reformed coal (essentially powdered coke)

        Similar efficiencies. CO2 is easily separated as a stream for injection into deep wells, or use as a feed stock for something else.

    • It turns it into a MORE efficient gasoline-powered vehicle when you're on a long trip. The fuel cell is better than a portable heat engine at burning fuel into electric power. (Perhaps even more efficient at converting fuel into shaft HP after converting the electricity, vs. going straight from an engine through a transmission). And you still have all the braking-scavenging advantages of a hybrid.

      It's still an EVEN MORE efficient whatever-the-grid-is-using-powered vehicle when the trip is short enough to

      • by Pseudonym (62607)

        For city driving, you'd presumably get the usual benefits such as no need for idling at stop lights/signs, regenerative braking and so on. Those efficiencies over conventional fossil fuel vehicles shouldn't be ignored.

      • by Toonol (1057698)
        It turns it into a MORE efficient gasoline-powered vehicle when you're on a long trip.

        Then why not just use this instead of a standard gasoline engine? If it's more efficient, then we'd presumably be getting 40, 50, 60 mpg using it, right?

        I would love for that sort of breakthrough to happen, but I'm skeptical. Maybe it gets better MPG, but at a much higher price per gallon?
        • Actually that's pretty much what you can expect to happen if it's viable. You'll still end up owning a hybrid of some sort, since being able to warm up the fuel-cell will still be necessary, and chances are a reserve battery of some sort would be needed to deal with the lag of the fuel cell in ramping it's output up and down to match demand (Toyota has a lot of literature on this, it's pretty much the real reason they developed the technology for the Prius at all - they realized they needed the electric mot

          • Also, without some kind of "peaking store" you'd need an enormous fuel cell to handle the short high-acceleration periods such as starting from a dead stop.

            With a peaking store (such as batteries or a flywheel) and regenerative braking you only need to handle the uphill cruising load, with regenerative braking plus charging while "idling" before the start or restart handling the higher loads of variable speed operation.

            You're talking about a factor of fifteen or so in fuel cell size and weight, nearly that

        • I would love for that sort of breakthrough to happen, but I'm skeptical. Maybe it gets better MPG, but at a much higher price per gallon?

          It's the high upfront cost that gets you, since the only functioning models are one offs in this lab. If (and as always, it's a big one) they can work out mass production of it, you probably will see it replacing ICEs

    • by hrvatska (790627)
      I guess it depends on how efficient the fuel cell is. The last link in the summary says "internal combustion engines only transform a quarter of the energy content of gasoline into torque to a car's wheels. The new design could, theoretically, double that figure." So, theoretically, very theoretically, this new fuel cell design could enable a vehicle like the Chevy Volt to go twice as far on a gallon of gasoline as one using an ICE. Maybe more, since because it wouldn't need as large a gas tank and the f
  • It's got electrolytes!
  • by shimpei (3348) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @07:59PM (#38286426) Homepage

    Temperature is actually more important than the energy density in this case. At 650C never mind 900C, you'll still have a lot of trouble with heat--material have an unfortunate tendency to expand and warp (or, worse, snap) at that kind of temperature. Thus, you may be able to turn your car on and off only dozens of times before the SOFC breaks down. This is the real reason why SOFC has never been seriously considered for cars--SOFC has always been relatively compact for the amount of energy they produce (except for the apparatus you'd need to get rid of the huge amounts of heat).

    Now, 650C is easy, at least if you are using natural gas as feedstock. (Gasoline may be somewhat more difficult, but not impossible.) Other solid oxide fuel cells that are trying to enter the market operate at or near that temperature range. 350C, though--wow. That will be remarkable, and may indeed be able to brings in an era of fuel cell vehicles, but it'll involve whole new set of chemistry, and I won't believe it until I see it.

    • Turbo EGTs can run 800+C regularly underhood, and presumably having some sort of insulated molten salt to retain heat would be helpful for reducing load on the battery and improving startup times.. The engineering to have those temps in automotive applications has been done (though the molten salt probably hasn't), and with a large enough battery pack, it shouldn't be a huge issue getting, say, a 20x20cm fuel cell core to fit in the space of, say, a transverse V6..

  • You don't need new batteries, just rename it duravolt and do a superbowl commercial with Madonna riding the E-street band's EV.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @08:02PM (#38286472)
    This is basically how they think the Bloombox fuel cells shown on 60 minutes last year works. Bloom is how start-up in Silicon Valley with prototypes powering several buildings there. Except the Science article says their technology is five times more space-efficient. A 5' by 5" plate could generate 50W to 100W for a portable computer. 10 of these plates could run a military backpack or appliance. 100 could power a car or house. 500 an office building.
  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @08:12PM (#38286570)
    Giving up its gasoline addiction by designing electric cars that need - gasoline.
    • by hipp5 (1635263)
      I think the idea is that it solves the chicken and egg problem: people won't buy fuel cell cars until there's a network of hydrogen supply stations, and it's not worth having a network of hydrogen supply stations until people buy fuel cell cars. With this invention people don't have to worry about having a hydrogen network, because they can just put gas in it. Then we can develop an appropriate hydrogen network because there are cars on the road with fuel cells in them.
    • by fnj (64210)

      Albeit, by the claim, half as much gasoline as a like car with an internal combustion gasoline engine.

    • Or methanol, or dimethyl ester.

      Both of which can be created from water, air, and power from solar or LFTRs.

      In fact, carbon-neutral (and American-made) liquid hydrocarbon fuels could be a GREAT way to store sunlight for later use.

  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @08:54PM (#38286878) Homepage

    the article is entirely missing the point. range extension doesn't help if the vehicle into which the range extension is placed is massively inefficient. that means that you need to fix the problems associated with standard vehicle designs (box and wedge shapes) in order to get the aerodynamics losses cut by at least 50%, and you need to cut the weight by over 70% (1.5 to 2.0 tonnes down to 350kg) in order to be able to take advantage of hard compound "ECO" tyres, which would otherwise rapidly wear out on a "standard" car. once the aerodynamics are efficient and the weight is low, "range extension" actually provides enough power to run the vehicle pretty much directly. see http://lkcl.net/ev [lkcl.net] for details.

    • 350kg would get squashed by any legacy car on the road. A typical mid sized SUV is 4000lbs / ~1800kg. Even a Smart Car is 740kg!

      Nobody is buying a 350kg vehicle with room for 4. It's either too dangerous or too expensive.

      • by lkcl (517947)

        Nobody is buying a 350kg vehicle with room for 4. It's either too dangerous or too expensive.

        both of those assumptions are wildly wrong! you simply cannot have a 350kg vehicle be more expensive than a 1500kg vehicle, just based on the quantity of materials alone - unless you've done something daft like use carbon fibre or a research-based material that is not yet in mass-production [which you simply do not need to do]

        google "aixam mega", "ligier" and other Category L7E vehicles. google "gordon murray design".

        french insurance company research shows that, actually, Category L7E "quadbike" cars para

    • The point of a range extender is to provide extra range for that 1% of your trips that cannot be made on a single battery charge. A lot of people, myself included, would be able to use an electric vehicle with a 350km range for the vast majority of our trips. But there's still that 1% trips that are longer, which is why people might hold off on going electric. That's where the range extender comes in... and to serve its purpose, it doesn't need to be all that efficient since you won't even be using it mo
    • the article is entirely missing the point. range extension doesn't help if the vehicle into which the range extension is placed is massively inefficient. that means that you need to fix the problems associated with standard vehicle designs (box and wedge shapes) in order to get the aerodynamics losses cut by at least 50%, and you need to cut the weight by over 70% (1.5 to 2.0 tonnes down to 350kg) in order to be able to take advantage of hard compound "ECO" tyres, which would otherwise rapidly wear out on a "standard" car. once the aerodynamics are efficient and the weight is low, "range extension" actually provides enough power to run the vehicle pretty much directly. see http://lkcl.net/ev [lkcl.net] for details.

      First, adjust your view of what it means to get the best aerodynamics. The Mercedes Boxfish car (http://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=mercedes+boxfish+car&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8) does better than nearly any car out there for fuel efficiency - especially when compared in the same engine type, and would not meet what you say - it's very boxy in front and wedge-like in back.

      Second, if you want to reduce weight then you need to use stronger materials. Those materials are likely

  • Um... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by J'raxis (248192) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @09:13PM (#38287018) Homepage

    Last I checked, gasoline-powered vehicles don't have an "unlimited" range either. It may be an order of magnitude farther before you have to fill up a gas car than you have to recharge an electric, or somesuch, but that's still far from "unlimited."

    • Re:Um... (Score:4, Informative)

      by j-beda (85386) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @11:20PM (#38287688) Homepage

      Last I checked, gasoline-powered vehicles don't have an "unlimited" range either. It may be an order of magnitude farther before you have to fill up a gas car than you have to recharge an electric, or somesuch, but that's still far from "unlimited."

      The point is that a gasoline-powered vehicle can be refilled in a short enough time that it doesn't really matter that the range on a single tank of gas is "only" 400km. If an "alternative" powered vehicle could be refilled in a similar amount of time (and if the infrastructure needed to support that refilling system was widespread) then it could also be considered to have "unlimited" range. Currently pure electric and hydrogen powered vehicles do not have the infrastructure (and for the electric the time-to-refill is generally thought of as being too great.)

    • by blindseer (891256)

      I once did the math to figure out the rate of power transferred into my fuel tank whenever I gassed up my truck. Then I did the math to figure out some possible volt and ampere combinations that would create an equivalent power transfer rate. I then took a few of the more "practical" combinations and figured out about how big the electrical conductors would have to be to meet federal ampacity requirements and estimate the distance required between the conductors to prevent arcing. The math is not difficu

      • Re:Um... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by petermgreen (876956) <plugwashNO@SPAMp10link.net> on Wednesday December 07, 2011 @05:33AM (#38289056) Homepage

        Go ahead and do the math to figure out the power that can be transferred in a common filling station fuel pump

        According to wikipedia a standard pump does about 10 gallons per minuite and a gallon of gasoline contains about 132 megajoules per gallon. So we are taking a transfer rate of about 1320 megajoules per minuite wihch works out to 22 megawatts. EEK

  • .. then why bother with the weight and complexity of an ICE at all?

    I get about 390-410WH/mi in my Volt, which (assuming 33KW/gallon) is about 80MPG. That's actually a bit lower "mileage" than I could get, but I have a bit of a heavy foot. Assuming an 80% efficiency in the fuel cell, that'd be 64MPG, roughly double the mileage of a comparably-sized and -equipped car.

    (and yes, I'm an early adopter, it beats smoking crack.. Barely..)

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