PASADENA, CA - A smart diesel reformer and a tolerant fuel cell are the core components of a new type of electric power supply unit that researchers say may have future applications in the electric vehicle market. 

Norwegian company Nordic Power Systems (NPS) is developing the silent electric generator. California-based SAFCell Inc. is developing the new type of fuel cell. Also on the research team is the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). 

This combination of two advanced technologies is now undergoing testing, funded under the Research Council of Norway's RENERGI program. In trials, a 200-W solid-acid fuel cell ran on both pure hydrogen and on hydrogen produced from diesel by the unit's reformer -- with only an insignificant difference in performance. 

The reformer converts hydrocarbons into hydrogen, CO2 and heat. Because of the unit's high efficiency, CO2 emissions are substantially lower than in conventional combustion engines, and no other demonstrable exhaust is discharged. This means that diesel particulates, black carbon soot, nitrous oxide (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) are eliminated. An added plus is that the reformer emits no smoke or odor.

It all began in Germany. In 2006 the NPS founders came across an interesting conversion technology developed at RWTH Aachen University in the late 1990s. NPS acquired the licensing rights, envisioning market potential for an electric power supply unit based on a fuel cell that isn't dependent on hydrogen filling stations, and that can run on regular, easily available fuel without surrendering the environmental benefits of fuel cells.

In 2009 NPS secured usage rights to the new U.S. solid-acid technology for use with various fuel types such as diesel and biofuels.

NPS said that since the technology is scaleable, it is well suited for future generators in electric vehicles. But NPS is taking the development in stages. The company's first market is power supply for the defense industry. NPS has a technology development agreement with the Royal Norwegian Armed Forces.