Karma will test a hydrogen fuel-cell car without the infrastructure hurdles

One of many issues preventing the wider adoption of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles is that they’re tied closely to an infrastructure that’s been painfully slow to develop. Another is that the fussy high-pressure tanks required to store enough hydrogen in fuel-cell vehicles take up a lot of space—space that’s more awkward to plan around than a […]

One of many issues preventing the wider adoption of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles is that they’re tied closely to an infrastructure that’s been painfully slow to develop. Another is that the fussy high-pressure tanks required to store enough hydrogen in fuel-cell vehicles take up a lot of space—space that’s more awkward to plan around than a big battery pack. 

California’s Karma Automotive has revived a solution to both of those issues. It announced that it’s collaborating with Denmark-based Blue World Technologies to explore using a fuel-cell system with onboard methanol reforming to power “a variety of future passenger and light commercial vehicles.”

Karma Automotve tests Blue World Technologies fuel-cell system

Karma Automotve tests Blue World Technologies fuel-cell system

Put simply, Blue World’s technology uses methanol potentially captured from landfills, and makes hydrogen with it through a system on board the vehicle. It then uses that hydrogen to power a fuel cell—with a battery buffer—that in turn powers motors to move the vehicle. 

Such vehicles would have zero tailpipe emissions, although they wouldn’t be entirely zero-emissions. The fuel-cell system uses high-temperature PEM technology and methanol-to-hydrogen reforming. 

Blue World Technologies fuel-cell system

Blue World Technologies fuel-cell system

That’s an energy-intensive process that is more efficient than burning gasoline but not nearly as efficient as large scale hydrogen production or an electric car using batteries

However, methanol can be made using renewable sources “ensuring a CO2-neutral proposition” in a well-to-wheels sense, Blue World notes. Generally, any criteria emissions of the sort that cause smog or local air quality issues are very low, too. 

The company says that such renewable methanol might come from biomass, biogas, or municipal waste. 

Blue World also notes that with a typical vehicle tank of 75 liters (less than 20 gallons), a 600-mile range or more is possible. Methanal could be dispensed as a liquid, via equipment that isn’t vastly different than that used for gasoline. 

Karma will test a version of its GS-6 plug-in hybrid over the next few months, both in the U.S. and in Denmark. The GS-6 is a more affordable model for Karma, slotting below a revamped version of the Revero GT flagship. Both are essentially continuations of the vehicle once known as the Fisker Karma. 

Volvo C30 Battery Electric Vehicle, shown at 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Volvo C30 Battery Electric Vehicle, shown at 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Volvo tried a similar test on a prototype battery electric version of its C30 more than ten years ago, with gasoline instead of methanol, and wasn’t pleased with the conclusions about the end result’s carbon footprint. Nissan has also tested a system with an onboard reformer, using ethanol as the fuel, and has noted that such a system might only be suitable for larger vehicles. 

With Karma, many things seems to come full-circle. Quantum Technologies, the former company that originally developed the system that Fisker Automotive licensed for the Quantum, was also a producer of fuel-cell systems, and did some of the pioneering work for high-pressure hydrogen storage.