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The future of electric cars?

Running fuel cells on biodiesel

A smart diesel reformer and a tolerant fuel cell are the core components of a new type of electric power supply unit. Environmentally friendly and flexible, the unit could be a serious contender in the market for generators in electric vehicles and other applications.

The power supply unit can run on biodiesel as well as regular diesel.

This combination of two advanced technologies is now undergoing testing, thanks to funding under the Research Council’s RENERGI programme. In trials, a 200-W solid-acid fuel cell ran on both pure hydrogen and on hydrogen produced from diesel by the unit’s reformer – with only an insignificant difference in performance.

Low CO2 emissions

The reformer converts hydrocarbons into hydrogen, CO2 and heat. Due to the unit’s high efficiency, CO2 emissions are substantially lower than in conventional combustion engines, and no other demonstrable exhaust is discharged – meaning that diesel particulates, black carbon soot, nitrous oxide (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) are elimi¬nated. An added plus is that the reformer emits no smoke or odour.

Technical Director Dag Øvrebø is pleased with the test results of a silent 200-W generator consisting of a fuel cell and reformer. Photo: NPS Technical Director Dag Øvrebø is pleased with the test results of a silent 200-W generator consisting of a fuel cell and reformer. (Photo: NPS) Norwegian-US collaboration

The silent electric generator is being developed and produced by the Norwegian company Nordic Power Systems (NPS). The California firm SAFCell Inc. is developing and will deliver the new type of fuel cell. Also on the team is the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Dag Øvrebø, Technical Director of NPS, has many years’ experience with fuel cells and has been working closely with Caltech on this new technology

German conversion technology

It all began in Germany. In 2006 the NPS founders came across an interesting conversion technology developed at RWTH Aachen University in the late 1990s. NPS acquired the licensing rights, envisioning a clear market potential for an electric power supply unit based on a fuel cell that is not dependent on hydrogen filling stations, and that can run on regular, easily available fuel without surrendering the environmental benefits of fuel cells.

In 2009 NPS secured usage rights to the new US solid-acid technology for use with various fuel types such as diesel and biofuels.

Tor-Geir Engebretsen, Managing Director of NPS. Photo: Claude R. Olsen Tor-Geir Engebretsen, Managing Director of NPS. (Photo: Claude R. Olsen) Tor-Geir Engebretsen, Managing Director and co-founder of NPS, is very pleased with this summer’s tests. “Now we have demonstrated that the solid-acid technology works. The next step is to test a larger unit of 1 200 W.”

Armed Forces first user

Engebretsen points out that since the technology is scalable, it is well suited for future generators in electric vehicles. But NPS is taking the development in stages. The company’s first market is power supply for the defence industry; NPS has a technology development agreement with the Royal Norwegian Armed Forces. In addition, NPS has a product development agreement with Marshall Land Systems, of the UK, with the aim of supplying silent-running generators for the British Armed Forces.

If all goes according to plan, the unit being developed with Marshall will be ready for market launch by mid-2011, while the solid-acid fuel cell will be phased in somewhat later. An assembly plant in Høyanger, Norway, is scheduled to open in early 2012 with Industrial Development Corporation of Norway (SIVA) as contractor.


Nordic Power Systems (NPS)

NPS currently has seven employees in Norway, and six in the USA through a contract with SAFCell in California.

  • So far NOK 50 million has been spent on development and market preparations.
  • Financing has come from a score of private investors and from:
    o Research Council of Norway
    o Innovation Norway
    o Royal Norwegian Armed Forces
    o Høyanger Næringsutvikling AS

The project

  • Name: Development of cutting-edge fuel cell technology, integration and testing of NPS’ proprietary fuel cell generator for industrialisation in Norway
  • Project manager: Nordic Power Systems/Dag Øvrebø
  • Partners: SAFCell, Caltech, Nordic Power Systems
  • Overall budget: NOK 11.8 million. Funding under the RENERGI programme: NOK 5.9 million


Written by:
Claude R. Olsen/Else Lie. Translation: Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann
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