The EnergyWeek event taking place in the north Jutland town of Frederikshavn from 3-5 November with the theme of "Sustainable Transport", will see the unveiling of a prototype electric/fuel cell hybrid car which uses a liquid fuel - methanol - rather than hydrogen gas to power the fuel cell.
The new car, which overcomes the range limitation problem of pure electric cars by using a fuel cell to continuously recharge the battery while in operation, is being developed by the Danish fuel cell development company SerEnergy in collaboration with battery performance optimization expert firm Lithium Balance and the Institute of Energy Technology at Aalborg University, with support from the North Jutland Growth Forum and the Danish Energy Authority.
The car features a methanol reformer, a well known chemical engineering technology which converts methanol (mixed with water) into carbon dioxide and hydrogen, the latter being separated out and fed to the anode of the fuel cell. From a consumer perspective, the advantage of methanol is that it is a liquid and so can be tanked in the same way as gasoline, unlike hydrogen which is a gas and has to piped into a storage cylinder in the car under pressure.
Other advantages of methanol are the fact that it has a much higher energy density than hydrogen, and that it is not perceived by the public as dangerous in the way that hydrogen is regarded, abetted no doubt by tragedies like the Hindenburg airship disaster, which although it happened over 70 years ago, is still very present in the public consciousness.
But all that said, methanol does have some drawbacks. It is toxic and extremely flammable, and reforming the fuel significantly reduces overall energy efficiency. Reforming methanol also produces CO2 as a by-product, which means that a vehicle so equipped cannot be classified as a ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle).
Whether methanol, hydrogen or another substance emerges as the preferred fuel for electric/fuel cell hybrid cars will be decided by the future. Meanwhile, there is likely to be plenty of interest in Frederikshavn when the new prototype car makes its debut appearance.