EV maker Karma wants to power electric cars with a methanol fuel cell

Such a system would emit carbon pollution, however.

Karma is working on something different from its normal EVs — hydrogen cars that use methane as a base fuel, Autoblog has reported. Karma is teaming with Denmark’s Blue World Technologies on a methanol fuel cell that reforms methanol into hydrogen, which in turn powers a fuel cell — with all that happening onboard the vehicle.

The companies didn’t say much about how the technology would work or what emissions it would produce, but fuel cells that convert methanol to hydrogen are called reformed methanol fuel cells. The idea is to install one in Karma’s upcoming GSe-6 electric vehicle by the end of 2021 for testing in the US and Denmark. If that goes to plan, Karma might eventually produce methanol fuel-cell cars.

EV maker Karma reformed methanol fuel cell drivetrain
Blue World Technologies

Reformed methanol fuel cells have existed for years, but they’re not pollution-free. All of them produce both water and CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, though less of the latter than a gas- or diesel-powered car. Methanol has an advantage over hydrogen in that it’s a liquid at room temperature, so it can be stored and distributed like gasoline or diesel. You’d also refuel a methanol car in a couple of minutes, where EVs take much longer than that to recharge.

According to Blue World Technologies, methanol can be made from renewable sources like “electricity, biomass, biogas and municipal waste.” As with any fuel cell vehicle, however, creating methanol with electricity, then using it in a fuel cell to power a vehicle, is far less efficient than just charging a battery directly — as I’ve detailed before in Engadget’s hydrogen explainer.