Nissan Reveals World’s First Solid-Oxide Fuel Cell Vehicle

Nissan SOFC

Nissan is making headway with its Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered concept car, which basically is an electric hybrid that runs on bio-ethanol. The base vehicle for this project is the all-electric Nissan e-NV200 mini-van (electric version of Evalia) with its 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Instead of the stock plug-in system of the van, a solid oxide fuel cell has been employed to charge the battery pack. This fuel cell technology is unique, as the system is using bio-ethanol as the hydrogen source.

Simply put, typical fuel cells use stored hydrogen and an oxidising element to produce electric energy, but here the SOFC generates hydrogen from the ethanol to do the same. What’s wrong in using regular hydrogen you may think. Nissan says that large-scale manufacturing of hydrogen to be used as an auto-fuel may involve considerable carbon emissions, while emissions from ethanol production using sugarcane is likely to get cancelled out by the plant’s own carbon dioxide consumption as they grow.

Nissan ethanol car

Nissan claims that ethanol in place of straight hydrogen is carbon neutral and energy-efficient.

Further, low combustibility of ethanol that is blended water makes it safe enough to store it like edible oils in grocery stores, instead of a heavy and costly hydrogen infrastructure. The company is now testing this prototype in Brazil, which is a major producer of bio-ethanol, and ethanol being used  there as alternative motor fuel extensively for decades. Thus, easy and low-cost availability makes this technology commercially viable in the Brazilian and other Latin American markets, claims Nissan.

Also Read: Nissan’s Roadmap For Zero-Emission Autonomous Driving

The e-Bio fuel-cell powertrain is claimed to be clean and ultra-efficient, and runs on both ethanol or ethanol-blended water. The emissions out of this engine are carbon-neutral, the company adds, as it will be the part of natural carbon cycle. Interestingly, with a 30 litre tank capacity, the car boasts a driving range of more than 600 kms, thus highlighting energy efficiency. Under its “Nissan Intelligent Power” vision, Nissan is promoting greater efficiency and electrification of cars, along with the development of vehicle intelligence technologies in pursuit of ‘zero-fatality’ mobility. In fact, Nissan’s Leaf is the world’s highest-volume zero-emission car, which is already promoting the market image of electric vehicles.

Also Read: Nissan Is Using Anthropology To Teach Autonomous Cars How To Behave

But the ultimate question is on ethanol’s sustainability as a large-scale motor fuel. Commercial promotion of energy crops may make them easily compete with food crops in the already dwindling agricultural land-use, which may pose serious threat to food security. Particularly with the ethanol, sugarcane is again a water-consuming crop, whose large-scale promotion may have detrimental effects on farm lands as well.

Next, would you like to read more on Nissan, Hydrogen Fuel-cell, or Sustainable Mobility ??

Dhiyanesh Ravichandran

Editorial consultant (Automotive and Technology), academic, and blogger based in India. He can be reached at

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