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Hydrogen As Electric-Car Range Extender? French Tests Start Soon
By John Voelcker Dec 28, 2013
Renault 'HyKangoo' electric delivery van with Symbio FCell hydrogen fuel-cell range extender
Hydrogen fuel cells have often been viewed as alternatives to large battery packs for powering electric vehicles.
But what if a small hydrogen fuel cell could be used in a battery-electric vehicle--solely as a range extender?
The French postal service, La Poste, is about to test that concept in three Renault Kangoo ZE small delivery vans.
Twice the range, zero emissions
The goal is to double the range, letting La Poste use zero-emission electric Kangoos on its longer routes and in more challenging terrain with steep hills.
The fuel cells come from Symbio FCell, based in Paris, and they'll be deployed in three "HyKangoo" small vans that will go into service by March.
They'll be tested on mail routes of 62 miles (100 km) or more through the cold, mountainous terrain of the Franche-Comté region--which borders Switzerland, and has the Vosges mountains to the north and the Jura range to the south.
When the range extender concept, originally developed for chemical giant Solvay, was offered to La Poste, the delivery group instantly saw it as solving a crucial range limitation.
Greening the fleet
La Poste today operates the world's largest electric-vehicle fleet, and it intends to electrify all 60,000 of its vehicles by 2050 or before.
More than 70 percent of its vehicles cover 62 miles or more per day, which currently limits use of Kangoo ZE vans to less than one-third of its routes. The fuel-cell range extender is expected to expand their use to a large majority of regions covered.
"The fuel cell solution improves winter working conditions for postal workers by providing better heating and defogging without impacting battery performance," said Jean-François Courtoy, Industrial Director for 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 Kangoo ZE is driven by a 44-kilowatt (70-horsepower) electric motor, powered by a 22-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Its range is rated at about 100 miles (160 km) on the European cycle, though in the U.S., its EPA-equivalent range might be as low as 70 miles.
The fuel cell, along with a reinforced 1.3-cubic-foot (38-liter) tank holding 3.8 pounds (1.72 kg) of hydrogen compressed at 5000 psi (35 mPa), is said to add a further 100 miles. At full power, roughly 0.1 lb (0.3 kg) of hydrogen is consumed per hour.
According to Symbio FCell, the hydrogen-powered range extender is based on a system of 5-kW stacks--the HyKangoo uses a 5-kW system--and can be sized to provide output from 5 kW to 20 kW using one to four modules.
The entire system fits under the cargo floor, with no compromise to load volume. it recharges the battery directly, with beneficial effects on battery life because deep discharge cycles can be avoided.
A side benefit, Chauvet said, is the ability to use waste heat from the stack to heat the driver's cabin--further reducing load on the battery, which would otherwise have to provide range-consuming resistance heat.
Cost-competitive with diesel
The first three vehicles cost about $68,800 (€50,000) after a French government environmental incentive is deducted, according to Symbio FCell's Bertrand Chauvet.
At that cost, La Poste calculates that the lifetime running costs of the HyKangoo will be no more than the diesel-engined Kangoo vans they use today, including the cost of diesel fuel.
The company hopes to cut the delivered cost of a HyKangoo to $48,200 (€35,000) once series production begins, Chauvet said. Similar systems will be offered next year for boats, trucks, and buses as well.
Thus far, Symbio FCell has shipped five HyKangoos to customers, and it hopes to ship 100 such vehicles during 2014--and 1,000 or more in 2015, once real-world usage data is available.
La Poste will use hydrogen fuel purchased from an industrial supplier, though it hopes to use electrolysis to split out hydrogen from a feedstock in the future.
The French administrative process to install such a process, Chauvet said, is "very constraining" and will take at least a year to complete.
[© 2013 Green Car Reports]
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