Hydrogen fuel cells were once touted as the path to zero-emission motoring, but advances in battery technology made hybrids and battery-powered electric vehicles more practical. Still Honda, which has built two fuel cell vehicles in the past, isn’t giving up on the universe’s most abundant element. It will launch a new fuel cell car in 2015.
“This new fuel cell vehicle will showcase further technological advancement and significant cost reduction that Honda has accomplished,” Honda CEO and president Takanobu Ito said at his mid-year speech in Japan.
Ito said the new fuel cell vehicle will be sold in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Development at North American Honda’s Research & Development Center in Liberty, Ohio is ongoing.
Honda has already put two fuel cell vehicles, the FCX and FCX Clarity (pictured) into limited production. These cars constituted a “pilot program,” similar to what Honda and other companies such as BMW and Audi are using to develop battery-powered electric vehicles. The data gleaned from the FCX models will help Honda’s engineers design a mass-market fuel cell vehicle.
While the first FCX was more of a science project than a practical car, the FCX Clarity has everything the average buyer could want. Launched in 2009, it is about the same size as the outgoing Accord sedan, and its 134 horsepower electric motor offers similar performance to a midsize sedan with a four-cylinder gasoline engine.
Ito did not reveal any technical specifications, but the new Honda will most likely be powered by an electric motor, with the fuel cell in place of a conventional EV’s battery.
In fuel cell cars, hydrogen is stored under high pressure, then run through the fuel cell to generate electricity. The system emits nothing but water.
The fuel cell car will be built as either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback like the FCX Clarity.
Honda may have perfected fuel cell technology, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be filling their cars with hydrogen by 2015. Fuel cells come with the same range and availability issues as batteries.
Honda claimed a 270-mile range for the FCX Clarity, about the same as the most powerful Tesla Model S. However, there are virtually no hydrogen filling stations, while EV charging stations are slowly springing up across the country.
Making battery-powered cars more practical is just a matter of building more stations, and hooking them up to an existing electrical infrastructure. Things get more complicated with hydrogen.
Hydrogen may be the most abundant element in the universe, but it usually comes bonded to something else. An environmentally responsible way of refining industrial quantities of hydrogen has not been devised.
Still, fuel cells offer the possibility of eliminating emissions without heavy batteries and long charging times. It may be a gamble for Honda, but it will offer consumers yet another alternative to fossil fuels.