Honda FCV and fuel cell thoughts…

November 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Honda-FCX-2016Honda has been leasing hydrogen-driven fuel cell cars since 2002 to selected customers, and has finally confirmed a date for formal launch and production of its FCV: March 2016 in Japan, with sales in the US and Europe to follow. Name to be announced nearer to the time. Latest version was unveiled in Tokyo this week – timed to coincide with Toyota’s launch of the Mirai – and Honda’s claiming a first in its powertrain layout: the entire drivetrain, including the fuel cell stack, is packaged under the bonnet, thus enabling a five-seat cabin (the Mirai’s only a four-seater). This also allows for the easier development of other bodystyles on the same platform at a later date. Developments from the earlier FCX Clarity prototypes include a downsizing of the fuel cell stack, 33% smaller but showing a performance improvement of around 60%, achieving a power output of over 100kW and power density of up to 3.1kW/L. The FCV has a single high-pressure tank for hydrogen storage, and Honda promises a cruising range of over 700km (434 miles), again outdoing the 300-mile Toyota; refuelling takes around three minutes.
Honda has further developed a couple of handy accessories and items of auxiliary equipment: also on display in Tokyo is its Power Exporter Concept, a device delivering 9kW of external AC power from the FCV, and its Smart Hydrogen Station, a mini-generator with a high-pressure electrolyser.

The week’s focus on fuel cells has got me thinking about hydrogen again; as a fuel, it demands energy for its synthesis and supply, and the establishment/expansion of an industrial infrastructure, just to produce electricity which can otherwise drive a car very effectively when supplied from an externally-charged battery. WTW carbon-impact lifecycle analyses bear this out. In the car, a fuel cell is still a complex and expensive thing to fit – again, to drive a motor which can be directly powered by electricity. But perhaps my biggest objection to hydrogen as a claimed fuel of the future is that it’s increasingly looking like a like-for-like solution for petrol/diesel on a business level and it lacks (though the advent of home electrolysers could change this) the disruptive potential of EVs, which can be charged at home or work, from solar/wind/hydro, without having to run to a filling station or engage with the oil companies.  Still, zero tailpipe emissions (apart from water vapour) can only be a Good Thing, and it does occur to me that, until the 400-mile EV arrives at a reasonable price, a fuel cell car is going to be easier to run for longer-distance drivers, especially those who (like me) have no access to domestic/workplace/somewhere to plug in overnight or for sufficient time to completely charge. That three-minute refuelling time is sounding pretty  convenient.

  • The Audi Prologue concept (upcoming A9) unveiled at the LA Auto Show this week features 48-volt mild hybrid tech. Energy recovery under braking of up to 12kW, mitigating the CO2 output of the twin-turbo V8 to 199g/km and fuel consumption to 32.8mpg, reports Autocar.
  • Well, it’s back… the Coda Automotive Sedan has been revived (yet again) as the Mullen 700e. Transport Evolved has a go at unravelling the long and undistinguished story of attempts to bring this rather sorry-looking ‘lectric saloon to market. It’s based on the mid-90s Mitsubishi Lancer, apparently (hardly cutting-edge even in its time) and was looking exceedingly dated even by the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show, when it debuted as the Miles XS 200. Yeah, me neither.
  • Here’s a handy primer on power-to-gas – ‘free’ hydrogen using surplus renewable electricity (i.e. from turbines on a windy day, difficult to store) to electrolyse water. This can then be ‘stored’ in the natural gas grid in a process known as blending to decarbonise the gas supply system, as well as making use of otherwise lost energy; more here.
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