Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Honda shipping hydrogen car this summer

Honda is getting ready to market a hydrogen fuel cell car in the United States, but it is unlikely to find a parking spot in Hawai'i, if only because of a lack of hydrogen fueling stations.

That could change in time, so it pays to pay attention to the technology.

(Image: The Honda FCX Clarity. Credit: Honda. For more, see http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx%2Dclarity/)

The car is the Honda FCX Clarity, and it will be available for lease at $600 a month. It is expected to be available in limited numbers in California this summer. Honda selected lessors who live near the existing California hydrogen fuel stations. The car is not being offered for outright sale.

The Clarity is being called a zero emissions car, although it isn't, really. It has emissions, but its emissions are just water.

Honda got the first gas-electric hybrid car into the U.S. market, but Toyota's Prius became the hot car in that category. With Clarity, Honda is once again first, and time will tell whether it will hold the lead against competitors. This time, however, automotive writers are declaring the vehicle a winner.

This car looks like a sleek standard sedan, and it's a four-seater.

The new Clarity has all the hot stuff. Heated and cooled seats. Phone and navigation controls on the steering wheel. Satellite radio.

And instrumentation that may define the new standard. In Honda's words: “A multi-layered instrument panel floats before your eyes, and 3-D gauges stand out with the information you need. The futuristic hydrogen-consumption gauge changes color and size to reflect hydrogen consumption as your driving conditions change. During high consumption the ball becomes large and amber colored. As consumption decreases, it shrinks and turns yellow then blue.”

The front-wheel-drive car has two sources of power: a hydrogen-fueled fuel cell that produces electricity; and a lithium-ion battery pack that produces electricity. Both or either can power the Clarity's electric motor, which is the latest version of a motor technology that Honda initially developed for its EV Plus electric car. The motor is rated at 134 horsepower.

One thing: Without any combustion going on, the Clarity ought to be very quiet.

The car has a range of 280 miles on a fill-up of 4.1 kilograms (9 pounds) of compressed hydrogen at 5000 pounds per square inch.

That leaves the issue of fuel.

“Increasing the numbers of convenient hydrogen refueling options is one of the last remaining hurdles to widespread adoption of fuel cell vehicles,” Honda says on its FCX Clarity website.

One future option, for those who have a source of natural gas, might be Honda's Home Energy Station, an evolving system that both powers the family home and makes hydrogen for the car.

While the industry loudly proclaims their hydrogen vehicle is emission-free, there remains the inconvenient fact that you need to make the hydrogen, and that requires energy. Just as an emission-free electric car needs to use energy to make the electricity.

Still, Honda says it's moving in the right direction.

“CO2 emissions for a household using the Home Energy Station are 30 percent lower than those for an average household using a gasoline-engine car and commercial electricity and heat.”

The Home Energy Station is still experimental. Learn more here: http://world.honda.com/FuelCell/FCX/station/.

The site includes a conceptual diagram of a solar-powered Home Energy Station, which would take fossil fuels out of the equation.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate