In March Ceres Power announced it was leading a UK government-backed consortium, including a global automotive company, to trial its Steel Cells with a view to extending the range of electric light commercial vehicles. It has now announced that the automotive company is Nissan, which has recently announced its intention to develop the world’s first solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) powered vehicle system running on bio-ethanol electric power. The programme takes Ceres into a new sector, complementing its activities in distributed power for residential and commercial properties and data centres.
Nissan is deploying fuel cells with batteries in electric vehicles to offer similar cruising ranges to gasoline-powered cars (more than 600km) and similar refuelling time. It is opting for SOFC rather than the PEM (proton exchange membrane) technology adopted by other automotive companies, as SOFC already works with natural gas rather than pure hydrogen, so should be more readily adapted for use with bio-ethanol. Bio-ethanol fuels such as those sourced from sugarcane and corn are widely available in countries in North and South America and Asia, supporting adoption of fuel cell vehicles in these regions without needing a hydrogen distribution infrastructure, as well as delivering a carbon-neutral solution.
The immediate financial value of the programme is relatively small. Ceres has been allocated £0.6m of £0.8m in total, so we are leaving our estimates unchanged. However, the potential is very great, as Ceres’s Steel Cell architecture is one of a small handful of SOFC technologies robust enough to withstand the high number of power cycles demanded by an automotive application. Moreover, the Steel Cell is made from relatively inexpensive materials commonly used in automotive manufacturing.