Nissan's ethanol fuel cell: Now in convenient van form!

Because a first-of-its-kind powertrain isn't much good sitting on a test bench.

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It's not particularly stunning to behold, but that's not really that point of it.

Nissan

Back in June, Nissan told the world about its ethanol fuel-cell powertrain. This fuel cell, a first of its kind, uses sustainable bio-ethanol in place of hydrogen to create electricity, which is then used to power a vehicle. It was cool, but an engine by itself doesn't do much. Thankfully, Nissan decided to throw the whole thing into convenient van form.

Shoehorned into the NV cargo and passenger van, Nissan's e-Bio Fuel Cell promises a range in excess of 373 miles on a single tank of pure bio-ethanol (it also works with ethanol-blended water). Bio-ethanol is largely pulled from sugarcane and corn crops, making it more sustainable than hydrocarbons pumped out of the ground, though it still takes considerable water and energy to make.

Even better, unlike hydrogen fuel cells, Nissan's ethanol fuel cell doesn't need a complicated and expensive infrastructure to support it. The automaker envisions a future where you can just grab some bio-ethanol from a store shelf and pop it right into your car. That certainly sounds better than handling compressed hydrogen gas.

This prototype will be tested on public roads in Brazil. We're still quite a ways off from seeing anything like this in production, but it's good to see automakers coming up with unique ways to handle the next generation of vehicle propulsion. It already offers an electric version of the NV, called the e-NV200, which features a 24-kWh battery good for about 105 miles.