In the 1990s, methanol was seen as a possible new source of power for fuel cell electric vehicles. And yet, at the turn of the century, it nearly fell out of favor altogether, as the equipment needed to burn the fuel was much more complex than systems that used hydrogen only. Still, the past few years have seen renewed efforts to bring methanol fuel cells to market. Some weeks ago, Roland Gumpert, the engineer who spearheaded the development of Audi Quattro’s four-wheel drive, was back in the news, talking about his latest project, a sports car named after his daughter Nathalie (see H2-international, April 2019).
In spring, several outlets reported that the electric coupé, which, according to Gumpert, offers buyers a comparatively affordable way into the world of sports cars, had been certified as roadworthy. Gumpert presented a prototype of the vehicle at the Geneva International Motor Show in early 2019. His company, Gumpert Aiways Automobile, initially announced that the first vehicles – each costing around EUR 400,000 – would roll out of the factory near the end of 2019, but that was then delayed to last summer. So far, H2-international has only been able to verify a handful of customers who could take delivery of their cars.
Despite this, a button on the company’s main page still urges visitors to “Get your Nathalie!” A click on the button will direct prospective buyers to a subpage explaining how they can get their hands on the new car, from paying a EUR 5,000 reservation fee to signing a lease agreement. The company also posted several teaser videos at the beginning of the year. While promotionally effective, they have since invited questions and criticism as well. In response, Gumpert told efahrer.com in late May that “Nathalie was designed to be a showcase of our team’s abilities, a marketing tool. That’s a common strategy for automakers. The main goal is to highlight the technology that powers the car.”
Generating less buzz but arguably more solid prospects are German special purpose vehicle maker C&S’ efforts to convert a Mini Moke to run on the same methanol-water blend as Gumpert’s sports cars. A fuel cell extends the range of the new buggy, called CSE Morris, to around 500 miles (800 kilometers). The buggy is being developed in collaboration with staff from Baden-Württemberg state’s network of publicly funded university campuses and Bavarian fuel cell maker Siqens.
A cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate battery provides the utility vehicle with 20 kilowatt-hours of energy, giving it a range of 87 miles (140 kilometers). To extend the range, the car also features an Ecoport 800 module and a 40-liter tank, which are used to recharge the battery. The system combines the benefits of liquid fuels, i.e., fast fill-up and high energy density, with those of an 800-watt fuel cell, which reforms the methanol-water mixture to produce pure hydrogen for powering the electric motor.
Volker Harbusch, Siqens’ chief executive, said: “Engine designs consisting of a small battery and a fuel cell to extend the range are an especially good choice for long-range utility vehicles that need to power a whole host of components, including cooling systems.”