Göteborg, Sweden – Volvo has begun development of fuel cells, which will be used to extend an electric car’s operating range. The company aims to have two prototype chassis, based on the Volvo C30 DRIVe Electric, reading for testing in everyday traffic in 2012.

“This is an exciting expansion of our focus on electrification,” said Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Volvo Cars. “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.”

Volvo is working with Powercell Sweden AB on the project. In the first phase, a preliminary study is being done on a “range extender,” a fuel cell with a reformer. The reformer breaks down liquid fuel, in this case gasoline, to create hydrogen gas. The hydrogen is converted into electrical energy in the fuel cell to power the car’s electric motor. Due to a highly efficient process, CO2 emissions are significantly reduced when compared with a conventional vehicle. The technology can also be adapted for renewable fuels.

The technology is expected to increase the electric car’s operating range by up to 250 kilometres, in addition to the range provided by the car’s battery pack. The fuel cell industry expects that cost efficiency will improve continuously through refined technology and large-scale production.

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