Volvo developing a hybrid hydrogen-electric vehicle


Volvo's electric C30 concept has a 94-mile range, but the carmaker is planning to add a fuel cell and an on-board reformer to produce hydrogen from gasoline and extend the vehicle's range by 155 miles.

Volvo is taking its C30 DRIVe Electric concept to the next level and adding a hydrogen fuel cell to extend the EV’s 94-mile range, creating a hybrid hydrogen-electric plug-in. The fuel cell will add another 155 miles of range, but what’s really interesting is the way Volvo plans on sourcing the hydrogen: from gasoline.

Rather than relying on the promised hydrogen highway to be built, Volvo is exploring the use of an on-board reformer to process gasoline into hydrogen gas. The fuel cell will use the hydrogen gas to power the electric motor when the C30’s 24kwh battery has been depleted, more than doubling the vehicle’s range without increasing battery size.

Creating hydrogen from gasoline may sound a little like robbing Peter to pay Paul, but the conversion process is about 85 percent efficient, according to an article in Green Car Reports. Powering an electric motor with hydrogen has twice the efficiency of gasoline powering an internal combustion engine, which loses a lot of energy in heat. It also solves the problem of the hydrogen transportation infrastructure lagging behind vehicle technology. And because hydrogen is created on an as-needed basis, it could minimize the storage issues presented by hydrogen vehicles, which slowly leak gas over time and can’t be stored in garages or other enclosed spaces for safety reasons.

Volvo is in the first phase of its Range Extender project, which it’s conducting with Powercell Sweden AB, and the carmaker expects testing of these fuel cell hybrid electric vehicles to begin in 2012. That’s also the same timeframe that Volvo will bring the C30 Electric stateside along with the plug-in hybrid it’s been promising.