In for the long haul! The "MeStREx" project extends the range of battery-powered vehicles

As part of the MeStREx (Metallic Stack for Range Extender) research project, Plansee is working together with partners from industry and research on an innovative "range extender". It is designed to convert ethanol based fuels to electric power extremely efficiently, and is intended to allow the battery packs to be recharged autonomously and continuously, far from any external source of electrical power.


Fancy a long trip to the sun? Of course! After all, before long there should be nothing stopping people from taking a long-distance trip with an electric car. Launched recently, the "MeStREx" project is one of the leading initiatives in the "Mobility of the Future" program and is designed to free electric vehicles from the limitations of restricted range. The project partners are Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK, AVL List, the CEET and IWT institutes at Graz University of Technology, Phystech Coating and Plansee.

At the heart of the "MeStREx" project lies the ongoing development of a high-temperature fuel cell (solid oxide fuel cell, SOFC) with a metallic support structure, that converts ethanol based fuels to electric power extremely efficiently. The idea is that this fuel cell re-charges the vehicle's battery pack autonomously by environmentally friendly means. Conversion of bioethanol to electricity in an SOFC is carbon-neutral and is thus seen as the perfect complement to batteries.

Furthermore, the efficiency of the new fuel-cell-based system is far greater than that of engine-based range extender strategies.


From fuel cell to road trials: "MeStREx" in detail

In the first phase of the project, Plansee, PhysTech Coating and the Graz University of Technology will be looking at further developing the metal-supported thin-film fuel cell, or MSC (Metal-Supported Cell). MSCs are highly efficient energy converters that are of particular interest for mobile applications. Compared with fully ceramic cell systems such as ASC (Anode-Supported Cell) and ESC (Electrolyte-Supported Cell), the MSC offers far greater mechanical stability, which leads to very good thermal and redox behavior. MSCs have short startup times, are lightweight and have a high power to volume ratio. In other words, they are ideal for mobile applications with limited installation space.

In a subsequent phase of the project, the metallic cells are laser welded together with metallic interconnects and metallic frames to form "repeat units". These are then assembled by Plansee to form an MSC stack. This phase of the research project focuses on different joining technologies and the selection of suitable materials for sealing and contacting.

The next step is to design the interface between the MSC stack, the range extender system and the electric vehicle. To achieve this, AVL, Plansee and Nissan are developing a suitable clamping and integration concept and are working on optimizing gas flow and insulation of the module in order to deliver the best possible overall efficiency.

The final phase of the MeStREx project will test the new range extender in a real test environment to establish feasibility. From Vienna to Rome? Who knows?

The MeStREx project is due to run for 36 months and is sponsored as part of the "Mobility of the Future" program of the Austrian Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT).


AVL is the world’s largest independent company for the development, simulation and testing technology of powertrains (hybrid, combustion engines, transmission, electric drive, batteries and software) for passenger cars, trucks and large engines. AVL has more than 8,050 employees all over the world. In 2015, sales revenues reached EUR 1.27 billion.

Nissan in Europe
Nissan has one of the most comprehensive European presences of any overseas manufacturer, employing more than 17,000 staff across locally-based design, research & development, manufacturing, logistics and sales & marketing operations. Last year Nissan plants in the UK, Spain and Russia produced more than 635,000 vehicles including award-winning crossovers, commercial vehicles and the Nissan LEAF, the world’s most popular electric vehicle. Pursuing a goal of zero emissions and zero fatalities on the road, Nissan recently announced its Intelligent Mobility vision. Designed to guide Nissan’s product and technology pipeline, this 360 degree approach to the future of mobility will anchor critical company decisions around how cars are powered, how cars are driven, and how cars integrate into society. Nissan is positioned to become the most desirable Asian brand in Europe.

Phystech Coating
PhysTech Coating Technology GmbH is a research and development company (SME) which works in the field of vacuum and thin film technology, with a focus on PVD (physical vapour deposition) technologies. PhysTech develops and optimises pvd process technologies to achieve improved deposition methods and thin film systems for different applications with different pvd technologies, e.g. magnetron sputtering (dc and dc pulsed), ion plating, ion assisted deposition and arc source deposition (dc and dc pulsed). For process characterisation and optimisation PhysTech uses a variety of different process and plasma analysis systems like quadrupol mass spectrometer with energy analysis (PPM421-Inficon), langmuir probes (SMART-Probe-Scientific Instruments), optical emission spectroscopy (OES) and faraday cups (PhysTech). With the data of these measurements pvd processes can be optimised, new deposition material can be characterised and tested and thin film properties can be improved.

Plansee is a world-leading manufacturer of products made from refractory metals and composite materials. For high temperature fuel cells Plansee develops and manufactures interconnects and metal supported solid oxide fuel cells. The privately owned company has been manufacturing innovative powder-metallurgically processed high performance materials for over 90 years, and covers the whole production process, from the raw material to the fi nished product. The company employs materials experts, product developers and local technical sales staff to provide customers all over the world with all the help and assistance they require.

Institute of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Technology, Graz University of Technology (CEET)
The Institute of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Technology at Graz University of Technology is engaged in process optimisation, extraction and distillation methods. For many years, it has also been active in the field of hydrogen technologies. The specially established Laboratory For Fuel Cell Systems conducts interdisciplinary research on various key aspects which deal with hydrogen production, hydrogen storage and fuel cell technologies. Multiple cooperations with renowned industry partners and recognized funding agencies aim to create systems for portable and mobile applications such as the range extender system project MeStRex. Besides the field of steam-reforming, the group is actively engaged in research on the Reformer Steam Iron Cycle, which produces decentralized, highly pure, compressed hydrogen. In the field of fuel cells, the focus lies on component development of Pt-free catalyst systems and innovative electrolyte membranes. Apart from the development of individual components existing fuel cell stacks are optimized using in-situ analysis of degradation processes in single fuel cells and entire stacks.

Institute of Thermal Engineering, Graz University of Technology (IWT)
Around 50 employees are active in the field of research and teaching at the IWT. The research activities include both theoretical work and computer simulations as well as experimental investigations in the following fields: power plant technology, fuel cell technology, gas purification, CFD simulations, thermodynamic process simulations, combustion and gasification technology, heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology, use of biomass and heating pump technology.The IWT has strong collaborations with numerous national and international universities and research faculties such as the University of Leoben, Tallinn University of Technology, the University of Stuttgart, the Technical University of Denmark and the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems.The main research areas of the division “Thermal Energy Systems and Biomass” are: CFD simulation of thermal plants, thermodynamic circulation process simulation (ASPEN, IPSE), optimization of combustion and reduction of pollutants, energy generation from biomass, simulation and optimization of steam boilers, flue gas cleaning, CO2 capture, optimization of heating surfaces, solarthermics and the numerical simulation of tubular Solid Oxide Fuel Cells. More than 100 publications in journals and conference proceedings were published in the last 4 years.A fuel cell laboratory with all required safety technology and infrastructure for testing is available. The required gas analyses before and after the fuel cell can be carried out with one of the existing gas chromatographs. The tar measurements can be done via available flame ionization detector. The main components of gaseous fuels can be determined by gas analyzers.