Reformed Methanol Fuel Cells vs Li-Ion

Reformed Methanol Fuel Cells vs Li-Ion

Instead of using lithium ion, has anyone at Tesla considered using Reformed Methanol Fuel Cells (RMFC)? There's a company out there called Ultracell that has a portable version of this fuel cell that can power electronics. Couldn't this be scaled up and used in a Tesla?

Rather than having to recharge a battery, a car could just be filled up with a methanol/water mix. No need to wait for batteries to recharge. I'm not sure what the wearable parts are in this kind of fuel cell, but the bonus of no charging time should be pretty cool.

** I am not associated with Ultracell. I'm just a guy who loves technology and alternative forms of energy.

Paul.AZ | October 29, 2013

I've heard Elon bash fuel cells, touting the energy density of lithium ion, but the energy density of methanol is almost 10x that of lithium ion. To be honest, I'm not an expert in this field, but I feel like this is an area that's definitely worth exploring. There are companies doing Direct Methanol Fuel Cells (DMFC), and other companies doing Reformed Methanol Fuel Cells (RMFC). I'm sure there are pros and cons for both.

Also, there's been recent research to convert solar energy into methanol.

Efficient solar photoelectrosynthesis of methanol from carbon dioxide:!divAbs...

If we combine these two sides of the equation (the production and consumption) we can have a carbon-neutral cycle without the hassles of waiting to recharge a battery. There's already a network of gas stations that can, with minor modifications, that can transition over to methanol.

Just my 2c.

Brian H | October 29, 2013

Methanol is nasty stuff (wood alcohol). And much lower energy than ethanol, which is why it's not used much. Very harmful to gasoline engines if mixed with fuel.

Timo | October 30, 2013

It's not the fuel in fuel cell, it is the fuel cell itself that is a problem. That's large, complex, expensive, low energy and power density. It's pretty much like solar cells, useful for homes, not useful for vehicles.

grega | October 30, 2013

There are some interesting Natural Gas fuel cell technologies for homes emerging. A currently marketed Australian approach is supposed to pay for itself in about 10 years - runs on natural gas, powers the whole house, returns energy to the grid when sensible, more efficient than power stations (due to loss in transmission wires), less pollution than most power stations. It runs at just under 1000'c (under 1800'f) though (which makes it particularly efficient if it's also used to heat your water as a free extra).

A Maryland company says they're producing a similar fuel cell at lower temperatures, about one-tenth the size and cost. It runs at 600'C. If it works at promised it'll really change our electricity market - though it just sounds odd to use a fuel-cell at home to charge an electric car - which is the implication.

Neither solution scales down to a car, as both run too hot. Fuel cells that run on Natural gas, diesel, gasoline need to be hot to separate the fuel efficiently to get to the hydrogen within (layman's explanation!). They're trying to reduce the temperature - if you could fuel your car and get better and cheaper electricity generation than from the power stations that again changes the balance.

Battery technology isn't standing still either. Zinc-air, lithium-air - lighter technologies with longer range and cheaper too.

Interesting times :)