Honda announced today that it would begin commercial production of the FCX Clarity, a four-door, hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered sedan whose only emission is water. The vehicle, which was introduced as a concept about two years ago, was built from the ground up around hydrogen fuel cell power. The workings of this vehicle are perhaps its most revolutionary aspect. From Honda’s site:
A hydrogen fuel cell produces electricity for the vehicle. The fuel cell combines hydrogen, which is stored in a fuel tank onboard the vehicle, with oxygen from the air to make electricity. The electricity then powers the electric motor, which in turn drives the front wheels. Water vapor and heat are the only byproducts.
A fuel cell is made up of a thin electrolyte film wedged between two electrode layers in between two separators. Several hundred layers of these cells are connected in a series.
- Hydrogen fuel is fed into the anode of the fuel cell. Helped by a catalyst, hydrogen molecules are split into electrons and protons.
- Electrons are channeled through a circuit to produce electricity.
- Protons pass through the polymer electrolyte membrane.
- Oxygen (from the air) enters the cathode and combines with the electrons and protons to form water.
- Water vapor and heat are released as byproducts of this reaction.
Advances in fuel cell vehicle design accelerated rapidly once we began to develop our Honda fuel cell stack, turning conventional thinking literally on its ear.
At launch, the vehicle will only be available for lease in Southern California, where the majority of the United States’ hydrogen refueling stations exist. Numerous celebrities in the area, such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Harris, and film producer Ron Yerxa, will be among the first to take delivery on the new vehicle. It’s expected that Honda will produce 200 units in 2008 for sale in the US and Japan.
What’s so wonderful about this vehicle is that it’s an innovative, game-changing idea come to fruition. Honda’s engineers and designers set their sights on fundamentally remaking the automobile, and the FCX Clarity is the product of that exercise. Everything from the engine to the drivetrain to the interior seats has been thought through and optimized for energy efficiency. The Clarity represents the future of automotive technology, in some sense—it’s a vehicle that can travel 270 miles between fill-ups, and whose only tailpipe emission is pure, drinkable water. (To be fair, it must be noted that hydrogen fuel cells are not necessarily the optimal choice of power at this stage. Hydrogen is more an energy carrier than a primary fuel. It’s closer to a battery, functionally speaking, than to a primary fuel source such as gasoline or diesel. So, if hydrogen was produced by water electrolysis or by reforming natural gas, the environmental impact of producing that hydrogen still may be quite high, unless it was created using 100% renewable energy such as solar, wind, or hydro-electric power.)
The vehicle is also jumpstarting Honda’s initiative to explore possible hydrogen production/refuelling stations for the home. The company is actively prototyping and refining the Home Energy Station, a concept that leverages hydrogen fuel cells and natural gas to generate hydrogen to power both the home and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
It’s certainly an exciting time in the automotive world—we’ll be seeing some interesting new vehicles hitting the pavement in the next few months. Along with the FCX Clarity, Tesla is expected to deliver it’s electric sports car this year, and Fisker Automotive will be doing the same shortly thereafter. Regardless of which direction the auto industry moves toward (hydrogen vs. electric), it’s wonderful to see innovation come to fruition.
For more, Autoblog Green has some great coverage of a “first drive” of the FCX Clarity.