Backed by research support from the Swedish Energy Agency, Volvo Cars is initiating development of a fuel cell that can extend an electric car’s operating range without any carbon dioxide emissions. Volvo Cars is working together with Powercell Sweden AB on this project and is hoping to have two prototype chassis based on the Volvo C30 DRIVe Electric ready for testing in everyday traffic in 2012.

“This is an exciting expansion of our focus on electrification,” said Volvo Cars President and Chief Executive Officer Stefan Jacoby. “Battery cost and size means that all-electric cars still have a relatively limited operating range. Fuel cells may be one way of extending the distance these cars can cover before they need to be recharged. What is more, the project gives us increased knowledge about fuel cells and hydrogen gas.”

In the first phase, a preliminary study is being conducted into what is known as a range extender, which consists of a fuel cell with a reformer. The task of the reformer is to break down a liquid fuel, in this case petrol, and create hydrogen gas. In the fuel cell, this hydrogen gas is converted into electrical energy, which is used to power the car’s electric motor.

The technology generates electricity completely without any emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx) and particles. Due to the highly efficient process, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are significantly reduced compared with a conventional, gasoline-powered vehicle. The end products are electricity, water and a small amount of carbon dioxide.

This technology is expected to increase the electric car’s operating range by up to 155 miles in addition to the range provided by the car’s battery pack. The fuel cell industry expects that the cost efficiency will improve continuously through refined technology and large-scale production.

The project is in its first phase, and Volvo plans to produce two test cars based on the current Volvo C30 DRIVe Electric. Testing of the cars will begin in 2012.


The hydrogen fuel cell is expected to add another 155 miles of range to Volvo’s C30 DRIVe Electric. Credit: Volvo

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