Solid oxide fuel cell takes to the road

The first development vehicle to be equipped with a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) has been unveiled in Munich by BMW and Delphi Automotive Systems.

The development vehicle uses the SOFC as the key component in an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), which could generate electrical energy for a wide range of potential vehicle systems and allows for the addition of further electrical features.

The SOFC / APU is said to provide sufficient energy for existing mechanically driven sub-systems, such as the air-conditioning and water pumps, to be driven electrically, allowing for more efficient operation and a much higher level of control.

‘Generator outputs have had to go up by about 30 percent and battery capacities by about 200 percent in the last 30 years,’ said Dr Burkhard Goeschel, BMW board member responsible for development. ‘If we reflect that before long our cars will have electric water pumps, electric power steering and electrically actuated brakes as well as the whole range of modern communication equipment, then we must expect current consumption at least to double again in coming years.’

Using a conventional, mechanically driven generator, supplying 1kW of electricity requires around 1.5 litres of fuel per hundred kilometres. Using the first production SOFC / APU will cause a reduction of 46 percent, leading to substantial fuel economy and environmental benefits.

According to a statement, the APU will be able to provide more power than can be reasonably supplied by a battery when the vehicle’s engine is switched off.

This may be to heat or cool the cabin while the driver is still eating breakfast when stuck in traffic. In commercial vehicles, an APU could be used to run refrigeration units or air-conditioning while the vehicle is parked overnight or stopped for deliveries.

Delphi is developing reformers that can convert either diesel or gasoline into hydrogen to fuel the APU.

‘This is a major breakthrough technology to help protect our environment,’ concluded Jose Maria Alapont, president of Delphi Europe-Africa-Middle East and a vice president of Delphi Automotive Systems Corporation. ‘Delphi has a complete portfolio of environmentally-friendly vehicle systems including both gasoline and diesel Engine Management Systems, 42-Volt system architectures, fluid-free electric steering, electric braking systems and recyclable interior products.’

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