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Formic Acid as Car Fuel

Formic acid. Or hydrozine. Chemical formulae HCOOH or HCO2H. Mere mortals know this unpleasant organic fluid from nettles along the road side.

Formic acid (Dutch: “mierenzuur” = ant acid) and nettles

It could however function as a carbon-neutral fuel in the e-vehicles of tomorrow. Emissions: CO2 and water, after formic acid is produced from CO2 first, closing the cycle. The additional advantage is that formic acid can function as a storage medium for intermittent renewable energy. This is perhaps even the largest potential of formic acid.

Formic acid would make heavy batteries with relatively low energy density, high embodied energy and long charging times superfluous. Compared to the best batteries (0.57 kWh/liter) formic acid has a three times higher energy density per weight/volume, namely 2.11 kWh/liter. In comparisson, gasoline has 8.7 kWh/liter. Current formic acid cost is €0.50/liter. Team FAST claims the price could go down to €0.30/liter as a result of economies of scale. Current gasoline price in the Netherlands is €1.50/liter, so formic acid is 30% more expensive than gasoline per kWh. But that doesn’t mean much as global annual production volumes of formic acid is still low (0.7 MT, half in Germany, other half in China). Furthermore conversion efficiencies need to be considered first to make a judgment. Fueling a car would be done in the traditional way, in a matter of minutes at the gas station… umm make that formic acid station.

Students of the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, organized in “Team FAST”, are working on this new mode of sustainable transport. So far they have a small model working, but the ambition is that by the end of 2017 a bus will be driving on this fuel. The bus will be provided by Eindhoven-based bus manufacturer VDL. The e-bus will be equiped with a trailer, carrying a formic acid “range-extender” to the tune of 400 km.

Work on preparing a bus for running on formic acid

Formic acid is essentially a continuation of the hydrogen fuel cell concept, but with an additional liquid step, with higher energy density.

Where to get formic acid? A chemical reaction, discovered last year by TU/e researchers, enables hydrogen and CO2 to be converted at high speed into formic acid, to be used as fuel and vice versa, for burning hydrogen in the fuel cell, turning it into electricity. Due to the liquid nature of formic acid, hydrogen can be transported easily and cheaply.

[teamfast.nl] – Official site FAST, students EU-Eindhoven
[tue.nl] – Team FAST presents scale model of car powered by formic acid
[vdlbuscoach.com] – VDL Bus & Coach and Team FAST build world’s first formic acid-powered city bus
[instagram.com] – Pictures Team FAST
[wikipedia.org] – Formic acid fuel cell
[wikipedia.org] – Formic acid
[stanford.edu] – Formic Acid as a Viable Hydrogen Storage Material
[trouw.nl] – De klimaatneutrale mierenzuurbus komt eraan

Hydrogen content in terms of volume and weight. Formic acid is looking pretty good.

Team FAST posing in front of the Evoluon in Eindhoven with their bus.

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