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Nissan doubles power density with new Fuel Cell Stack

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October 13, 2011

Nissan yesterday revealed a new Fuel Cell Stack for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) tha...

Nissan yesterday revealed a new Fuel Cell Stack for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) that packs 85 kilowatts into a 34-liter package

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One area of energy storage that appears to be moving towards viability quicker than battery technology at present is the hydrogen fuel cell. Nissan Motor yesterday revealed its next generation Fuel Cell Stack (2011 Model) for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV).

Through improvements to the Membrane Electrode Assembly and the separator flow path, Nissan has improved the power density of the Fuel Cell Stack to 2.5 times greater than its 2005 model, and in so doing has created a world's best 2.5 kW-h per liter power density.

The cost of the 2011 model Fuel Cell Stack has been reduced to one sixth of the 2005 model.

Furthermore, molding the supporting frame of the Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA) integrally with the MEA's single-row lamination has reduced its size by more than half compared to conventional models.

Compared with the 2005 model, both the usage of platinum and parts variation has been reduced to one quarter, thereby reducing cost of the Next Generation Fuel Cell Stack to one-sixth of the 2005 model.

In so doing, Nissan engineers have achieved an important breakthrough with the development of a compact and durable hydrogen fuel-cell stack - capable of delivering ample power - that can be manufactured in volume at competitive cost.

Most importantly, it's not one of those Japanese research lab breakthroughs that's still effectively ten years away. Nissan's fuel-cell team says it can be ready for market as soon as sufficient supplies of hydrogen are available.

According to Nissan, taxis, delivery vans and other city-specific fleets could quickly be converted to zero-emission fuel cells.

"We never got discouraged and we never gave up," says Masanari Yanagisawa, a 10-year veteran in the company's fuel-cell R&D efforts. "So we just kept working, patiently and persistently. As a result, we have achieved what we believe is a major breakthrough.

"We have made great strides in two critical areas: power density and cost. Our 2011-model fuel-cell stack delivers power density at 2.5 kilowatt-hrs per liter, 2.5 times better than our 2005 model.

"As a result, the new stack is also a lot smaller. We can now pack 85 kilowatts of power in a 34-liter package. Better yet, we have brought the production cost down by 85 percent, close to meeting the U.S. Department of Energy cost target for 2010 - a widely referenced benchmark.

"We slashed the price by reducing the need for platinum by 75 percent," Yanagisawa says. "The Membrane Electrode Assembly [MEA] comprises 80 percent of the stack's cost, and platinum is half the cost of an MEA, so this was a huge step forward."

The other key challenge in developing fuel-cell stacks is to design a structure that delivers high power- density; that's durable and easy to manufacture without flaws. This is very tricky.

Each fuel cell is a carefully built sandwich with layers ultra-thin polymer electrolyte membrane. Each membrane has an anode layer and a cathode layer on both sides. On the outer side of each of each of these anode/cathode layers are separators, which form channels through which hydrogen, air and cooling water flow.

As each fuel cell generates a maximum of one volt, you need to stack lots of sandwiches together to get enough power to run a car.

The process is so fiddly that building a model ship in a bottle seems a snap by comparison. No wonder so many teams around the world have given up in frustration. But with their craft legacy of patient attention to minute detail, this is the kind of work that Japanese tend to excel at.

Since 2001, the Nissan team has built a succession of prototype fuel-cell vehicles, first with partners like Ballard Power Systems and UTC Fuel Cells, then in-house from 2005. Each stack was incrementally better than its predecessor.

The 2005 prototype achieved a range of 500 kilometers, matching a conventional car. A 2008 version achieved an important breakthrough in cold-weather tolerance. But putting enough cells together in a durable stack was a hurdle the team just couldn't get over. After managing to stack more than 400 cells, they would watch in frustration as the brittle contraption fell apart on the lab floor.

Finally, in 2009, the team had a conceptual breakthrough with a technique that involves molding plastic around the MEA to create insulating frames between each of 400+ layers in the stack - thereby ensuring the layers neither short out nor fall apart.

"This breakthrough puts us, no question, in the front rank of fuel-cell developers around the world," Yanagisawa says. "Best of all," he adds with a grin, "it puts us ahead of our competitors."

So can we expect to see a Nissan Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) coming round the corner soon? "We are now ready to go to market at any time," Yanagisawa says. "The only hurdle remaining is hydrogen distribution. Give us the hydrogen and we'll give you an FCEV. We're good to go!"

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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16 Comments

Someone is confused. 85 kW in 34 liters. For how long? 1 second or 1 hour or 10 hours? Or did you mean 85 kWh? Remember the 125 million US$ Mars Lander that crashed because the engineers fouled up on the units.

HansMMN
14th October, 2011 @ 05:32 am PDT

With hydrogen, you have a chicken vs. egg adoption scenario which is often very slow. Why not design around methane (natural gas) as the fuel? It already has a wide distribution network. Methanol would also be a better choice than hydrogen since it has a high storage density compared to hydrogen gas. Sure, hydrogen leaves no CO2 behind, but given then costs and time to roll out a hydrogen network, it may be a while before you can buy a hydrogen car. These fuel cells would be ideal for home power use, especially when supplemented by solar or wind generation.

Robert Newman
14th October, 2011 @ 09:26 am PDT

This is a fuel cell. The power will be constant as long as the fuel last.

Stewart Mitchell
14th October, 2011 @ 09:40 am PDT

You are confusing power density with energy density. What they are saying is that the powerplant can put out 85kW of power, and the volume of space it takes to do that is 34 liters. So that translates to 2.5 kW/liter. How long that is output for depends on how big your Hydrogen tank is.

Eletruk
14th October, 2011 @ 10:42 am PDT

@HansMMN. This is a hydrogen fuel-cell, not a battery. The energy (kWh) is in the hydrogen. The fuel-cell only converts it into electrical power (kW).

EinSascha
14th October, 2011 @ 11:02 am PDT

An electric bike is 500 watts. That should be 200 ml inverter. Sounds good

Stewart Mitchell
14th October, 2011 @ 01:41 pm PDT

The article is refering to power density which is kW per Liter, not efficency which would be kWh per Liter. A Fuel cell does not store energy like a battery so it's not measured in kWh. The 85 kW in 34 liters is akin to saying my car has a 300 bhp 4.6 Liter engine. In an internal combustion engine the volume is the engine displacement but for a fuel cell I believe that it is the volume of the stack.

The reason they find power density important is because cars need a small fuel cell that put out a large amount of power, as opposed to industrial sized fuel cells that don't need to move and can be as big as they want.

Eric Grant
14th October, 2011 @ 01:57 pm PDT

I think you are right they have their volume units a wee bit wrong. Now if that was 3.4 litres that is impressive.

Natural gas /methane doesn't work in low temp pem cells. It does work quite nicely in SOFC types that run at much higher temps.

Wragie Wrawagie
14th October, 2011 @ 02:55 pm PDT

Hans they are reffering to the volume of the fuel cell not the fuel. Just like the displacement of an engine, not the size of the gas tank

Michael Mantion
14th October, 2011 @ 03:17 pm PDT

Why is the expected cost such a big secret? Einstein himself after reading this never ending parade of stories couldn't say how much "thereby reducing cost of the Next Generation Fuel Cell Stack to one-sixth of the 2005 model" is. Can the writer or anyone else tell me how much in dollars one-sixth of the 2005 model is? Bullfreathers! This is yet one more smoke and mirrors look what's coming happy things. Good job reporters, another article about what is "not here on sale yet, look what tomorrow will bring story. And you can forget a 200ml pack for your bike being on the shelf any time soon. Poor people, keep peddling, you wont be able to afford it if one if it ever comes out.

offthegrid
14th October, 2011 @ 04:32 pm PDT

Yes i agree ... an electric bike with a 3 litre bottle of hydrogen should go about 1000 miles or 1600 km. the legal limit is 250w, so the cell would be 1/120th smaller. for a motorbike we are talking 500km on 3 liters with a shoebox size fuel cell @ 100kph top speed, with a motor that weighs 12kg.

So you would just need a bottle of hydrogen in your garage and it would last you 10 000 miles!

Antony Stewart
16th October, 2011 @ 12:56 am PDT

current market prices for that kind of cell are 5000 USD, i would expect that currently a first factory of these would put them out at least 10 000 USD maybe double, and that an economy of scale could have them around 3000 USD manf cost.

A motorbike one would be about 5000 USD now, an economy of scale would be 500 USD

Antony Stewart
16th October, 2011 @ 01:00 am PDT

Terrific! Now, let's get solar power generators produce hydrogen from water.

Gyula Bognar
18th October, 2011 @ 01:28 pm PDT

Oh. we're getting low on fuel! Pull in over there-no wait, go over-. damn! Where do we fill this thing up anyway? Oh, and what does this hydrogen cost, anyway? I was told a while ago that GM(?) has apatent on onboard extraction of hydrogen from gasoline. Haven't heard much ado about it though...

Burnerjack
18th October, 2011 @ 04:42 pm PDT

ok so half the price is because of the platinum well then we have a very serious problem. Planium is actually running out which is shown in the trading price- it keeps climbing. Even in the last 2 years it's risen 1.5x

Sam Qu
20th October, 2011 @ 05:31 am PDT

HansMMN,

Always good to question "power" vs "energy" vs "electricity". Even energy professionals get it wrong. No wonder the public is confused; we have no energy policy that's "sustainable" in any sense.

However, 85 kW per 34 liter package = 2.5 kW per liter "power density", a primary figure of merit for any energy conversion device, including a hydrogen fuel cell. The article is correct.

85 kW in the instantaneous rate at which work is being done, hydrogen energy converted to electric energy. This performance for an hour would produce 85 kWh of energy, consuming > 85 kWh of hydrogen fuel energy.

Alaska Bill
30th November, 2013 @ 02:10 pm PST
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