November 22, 2007 It seems Honda is gearing up to be the one of the first major companies to bring a hydrogen fuel cell car to market – their FCX Clarity is set to go to production in 2008, in a move they’re hoping will break the catch-22 dilemma stopping motor companies from producing cars because there’s no hydrogen distribution, and stopping fuel companies from distributing hydrogen because there’s no cars that use it. To nurse consumers through the infancy of the hydrogen economy, Honda’s also attempting to decentralize the production of hydrogen through their Home Energy Station unit, which sits outside your house and reforms natural gas to produce enough Hydrogen to power both the car and the home’s energy needs at around 50% of the normal cost and with a 30% emissions reduction.

Honda FCX Clarity

Honda recently announced it will begin limited retail marketing of its FCX Clarity, a 100-kilowatt (150 hp) hydrogen fuel-cell powered compact car, in the middle of 2008. Initially it will be available only in California, but Honda clearly has plans to mass-market the FCX in the medium term if it proves viable.

The FCX Clarity is a zero-emissions, hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle based on the entirely-new Honda V Flow fuel cell platform, and powered by a compact, efficient and powerful fuel cell stack. Featuring impressive improvements to driving range, power, weight and efficiency, the FCX Clarity is Honda’s real-world fuel cell flagship.

The FCX uses an electric motor, which is a much more energy efficient use of the Hydrogen than in a regular combustion engine. Hydrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen in the fuel cell stack, where chemical energy from the reaction is converted into electric power used to propel the vehicle. Additional energy captured through regenerative braking and deceleration is stored in a lithium ion battery pack, and used to supplement power from the fuel cell, when needed. The vehicle's only emission is water.

The FCX clarity boasts a number of improvements over the current FCX prototype, including:

- a 20-percent increase in fuel economy - to the approximate equivalent of 68 mpg2 combined fuel economy (about 2-3 times the fuel economy of a gasoline-powered car, and 1.5 times that of a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, of comparable size and performance);

- a 30-percent increase in vehicle range - to 270 miles;

- a 25-percent improvement in power-to-weight ratio, in part from an approximate 400-pound reduction in the fuel cell powertrain weight, for superior performance and efficiency despite a substantial increase in overall vehicle size;

- a 45-percent reduction in the size of the fuel cell powertrain - nearly equivalent, in terms of volume, to a modern gas-electric hybrid powertrain;

- an advanced new lithium-ion battery pack that is 40 percent lighter and 50 percent smaller than the current-generation FCX's ultra-capacitor; and

- a single 5,000-psi hydrogen storage tank with 10 percent additional hydrogen capacity than the previous model.

Full details will be set closer to launch, but current plans call for a three-year lease term with a price of $600 per month, including maintenance and collision insurance. American Honda is also developing a service infrastructure that provides customers with the best balance of convenience and the highest quality of service. When the FCX Clarity requires periodic maintenance, customers will simply schedule a visit with their local Honda dealer. American Honda will transport the vehicle to their fuel cell service facility, located in the greater Los Angeles area, where all required work will be performed. At the completion of the work, the customer will pick up their car from the dealer.

Honda Home Energy Station IV

Of course, while California’s Hydrogen Highway is a leading initiative in developing a hydrogen distribution infrastructure, fuel supply will still be a huge issue for the first generation of FCX owners. To ease this transition for early adopters, Honda decided to build a home-based hydrogen generation and fueling device – which has evolved into an energy-saving power station for the whole home.

Running on a home’s existing natural gas supply, the Home Energy Station IV produces and stores hydrogen, while providing heat, hot water and electricity to an average-size home.

The Home Energy Station IV can reduce both cost and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the consumer. Compared to the average U.S. consumer's home with grid-supplied electricity and a gasoline-powered car, a home using Home Energy Station IV to help produce heat and electricity and also to refuel an FCX Clarity can reduce CO2 emissions by an estimated 30 percent and energy costs by an estimated 50 percent.

"Honda is striving to address the need for a refueling infrastructure for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles," said Ben Knight, vice president of Honda R&D Americas. "The Home Energy Station represents one promising solution to this issue, while offering the added benefit of heating and powering the home more efficiently."

The natural gas is reformed to produce hydrogen, which is then run directly through to a fuel cell stack to generate electricity for the home and enough heat to run the hot water supply. When immediate consumption is not needed, the hydrogen is refined, compressed and stored in a large tank for later use, or to fill a hydrogen car like the FCX Clarity.

Storage in the Home Energy Station IV is a maximum of 132 liters, which it fills at a rate of 2 normal cubic meters per hour.

Even though the fourth generation unit is about 70% smaller than Honda’s first home Energy Station prototype, it’s still quite large, requiring a decent chunk of front yard to set up. There’s no figures available on kilowatt output for powering the home, and Honda are yet to release details of when it plans to bring the unit to market – but its synergistic launch with the FCX Clarity shows Honda see the Home Energy Station as a partner device to the FCX.

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