Fuel cell developed by the Fever project.
The only waste emitted by this 100% clean system of energy
Zero emissions, over a range of 500 km, 120 km/h top speed.
This is the performance of a prototype of a clean car produced by
a European partnership. "Fever" is an electric car powered
by a fuel cell which consumes only hydrogen and oxygen.
In fifteen years' time, three fourths of
cars on the road will have to consist of hybrid vehicles, in which
electric power is coupled with internal combustion. The remaining
25% will be fully electric. For this purpose, a particularly economical
and clean vehicle could be developed from the prototype produced
by the six European partners in the Fever project. The vehicle's
special feature is that is has an engine powered by a fuel cell
that is very environmentally friendly.
Electrolysis in reverse
"In a fuel cell, it is the recombining of hydrogen with the
oxygen in the air which produces an electric current and water",
explains Jean-Claude Griesemann, project coordinator and head of
research at Renault. "The fuel cell principle is the reverse
of electrolysis in which a current causes water to break down into
hydrogen and oxygen." With the aid of a catalyst, the hydrogen
introduced into the first chamber in the fuel cell releases electrons,
which are captured by a metal plate resulting in an electric current.
The hydrogen nuclei, or protons, then pass through a semi?permeable
membrane and recombine, in the second chamber, with the oxygen in
the air. The water thus formed is the only waste produced by this
completely clean system of energy production.
Various specialists with mutually complementary knowhow worked
on this prototype for five years. The Italian partner De Nora produced
the fuel cell and Ansaldo, likewise Italian, assembled the secondary
systems and the hydrogen tank with the fuel cell. Air Liquide of
France manufactured the hydrogen tank, Volvo of Sweden carried out
the simulations and the Paris School of Mines defined the system's
operating parameters. The prototype was based on a modified Renault
"The main problems lay in understanding the physical phenomena
which take place inside the system", explains Jean?Claude Griesemann.
"One of the difficulties is maintaining the balance between
the pressures of air and hydrogen on either side of the membranes
during all the transitional stages. Any sudden imbalance could break
the membranes - and thus destroy the cells. Another difficulty is
linked to managing the water, both that required for gas humidification
and cooling and that produced by the fuel cell. Too much water in
the circuits would prevent proper gas circulation, for example.
Temperature control is also a problem, because any heating means
energy consumed at the expense of electricity production."
The lessons of a prototype
The experimental vehicle demonstrated the feasibility, and above
al the qualitative and quantitative performances, of such a system:
zero emissions, much higher energy production than for internal
combustion engines, a top speed of 120 km per hour and a range which
is limited only by the quantity of hydrogen carried (500 km for
8 kg of liquid hydrogen). The remaining problems to be solved prior
to industrial production are space (the system's current size only
leaves room for two passengers) and cost. The objective viewed as
economically reasonable would be to get down to EUR 100/kg which
is equivalent to twice the price of the engine - some good quality
fuel cells at present cost up to EUR 100 000/kw.
In addition to working on the Fever, De Nora and Air Liquide are
also cooperating with other partners on the EU's HYDRO?GEN project.
Coordinated by the French car manufacturer PSA, this aims to develop
another type of vehicle using a new generation of fuel cells and
The mass production of this explosive gas, together with its transport
and distribution, is in fact the main obstacle to use of the fuel
cell. Manufacturers (in particular Volkswagen, coordinator of the
CAPRI initiative) are therefore looking at the possibility of producing
the hydrogen directly in the vehicle itself by means of a "reformer".
A common operation in gas industries, reforming involves oxidising
a hydrocarbon, using high?temperature steam and air, and a catalyst,
in order to obtain hydrogen, carbon monoxide and a lighter hydrocarbon.
With methanol, the reformer produces hydrogen and carbon dioxide
only. This solution has the advantage that it can be used immediately
in the existing distribution network, and methanol can also be produced
from very diverse sources. Vehicles designed in this way would no
longer have zero emission, but the system's excellent energy efficiency
would still result in a major reduction in the CO2 emissions of
Fuel cell powered electric vehicle for efficiency and range
Research Department - Renault
Fax : +33-1-34957713
- Renault Recherche et Innovation, Rueil-Malmaison, France
- Air Liquide SA, Paris, France
- Association pour la Recherche et le Développement
de Méthodes et Processus Industriels (ARMINES), Paris,
- Ansaldo Ricerche Srl, Genoa, Italy
- AB Volvo Technological Development, Göteborg, Sweden
- De Nora Permelec, Milan, Italy
An experimental vehicle, modelled on a Renault
Two problems remain to be solved: size and cost.