June 16, 2008
Honda Hydrogen Car Goes Into Very Low Production

Only 200 FCX Clarity hydrogen cars will get built in the next 3 years.

Honda says its FCX Clarity can be filled easily at a pump, can drive 280 miles on a tank, almost as far as a gasoline car. It also gets higher fuel efficiency than a gasoline car or hybrid, the equivalent of 74 miles a gallon of gas, according to the company.

But the technology has faced many hurdles, not the least of which has been the prohibitive cost of the fuel cells themselves. Honda says it has found ways to mass produce them, which promises to drive down costs through economies of scale. On Monday, it showed reporters its fuel-cell production line, which resembled a semiconductor factory more than an auto plant with its humming automated machinery and white smocked workers in dust-free rooms.

The production cost is going to plummet in less than a decade from several thousand dollars to below $100k. Whoever said hydrogen cars are impractical? Any hundred millionaire can afford one.

Mr. Fukui said the cars cost several hundred thousand dollars each to produce, though he said that should drop below $100,000 in less than a decade as production volumes increase.

We are going to be well past Peak Oil before hydrogen fuel cell vehicles become practical. Improved lithium batteries and synthetic and biologically derived hydrocarbons will each do more to keep cars moving in the next 10 years. Since hydrogen gets made from natural gas you could get a natural gas powered Honda and use the natural gas more efficiently for a much lower cost.

The FCX will go 72 miles per kg of hydrogen.

The car can get a combined (city and highway driving) fuel efficiency of about 72 miles per kg of H2 which, according to Honda's own estimates, is the equivalent of getting about 74 mpg on a gas-powered car. The car can be driven for about 280 miles before needing to be refueled.

For a point of comparison, a Lawrence Livermore Laboratory team modified a Prius to use hydrogen and claimed an equivalent fuel efficiency of 65 mpg. The standard Prius of course already gets fourty some miles per gallon of gasoline.

The Prius, which has a combination electric motor and small internal combustion engine, traveled 653 miles on a tank containing almost 40 gallons of liquid hydrogen. The overall fuel economy for the driving conditions used by the Livermore team was about 105 kilometers per kilogram of hydrogen, which is equivalent to about 65 miles per gallon of gasoline. Coincidently, 1 kilogram of hydrogen has about the same energy content as 1 gallon of gasoline.

Hydrogen is just a storage medium. If hydrogen gets made from electricity generated by solar photovoltaic cells or nuclear power then it could help us move beyond oil.

Honda has made some strides with the latest design.

The Japanese company has been able to achieve this milestone in fuel-cell car production thanks to significant advances in the specialized technologies involved. With curb weight down to that of a current V6 Accord but sitting on a unique platform, the FCX Clarity is a hydrogen-powered technological tour de force. Engineers have increased driving range by 30 percent up to 280 miles, added 25 percent to the fuel economy reaching 74 mpg, have significantly downsized the fuel-cell stack but raised its power output by 50 percent, and have even recalibrated the electric motor over the FCX prototype to generate 8 percent more power, now delivering 134 hp. That propels the car from zero to 60 mph in around 8.5 seconds on the way to a top speed of 100 mph.

BMW's experimental 7 series hydrogen vehicle stores its hydrogen as a cooled liquid. If the car just sits parked the hydrogen gradually warms up and boils off. So some of the hydrogen gets used to generate electricity to cool the remaining hydrogen to keep it cold and liquid. But that means in a few weeks all the hydrogen gets used up doing the cooling. But the Honda FCX sounds like it uses compressed hydrogen gas and therefore should store much longer.

Four kilograms of hydrogen (the equivalent of about 4 gallons of gas) are stored in a 45-gallon tank compressed to 5,000 psi.

I am expecting the cost of solar cells to plummet in the next 10 years. Given cheap batteries (and when will that happen?) we will be able to recharge our pluggable hybrid cars with power from the sun. But the expense of batteries limits vehicle range. If hydrogen vehicle costs ever come down then hydrogen vehicles might make sense some day for longer range travel. But hydrogen as a fuel will need to compete with far more convenient and highloy energy dense liquid hydrocarbon fuels made from genetically engineered algae and from purely synthetic processes.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 June 16 10:33 PM  Energy Transportation

rsilvetz said at June 17, 2008 8:25 AM:

And what happens to the 5000 PSI tank in an accident? Since the car weighs next to nothing, what happens when it is hit by a Volvo? Does everyone in the hybrid die? Yep. Get ready for traffic fatalities going thru the roof as people make insane short-term economic decisions to buy the hybrid and hydrogen death-trap vehicles.

And before anyone makes waves think: Would you want to be in a front-end collision or side-impact collision in an 4500-lb vehicle or a subcompact hybrid at under 2900 lb (or less if aluminum-frame) with a factor of 8 reduction in crumple zones? That one-ton plus differential at mv^2 dynamics makes a big difference.

This is what happens when markets are not allowed to function and geopolitics and stupid policies (biofuels, environmentalism) get in the way.

Nick G said at June 17, 2008 9:09 AM:

"Would you want to be in a front-end collision or side-impact collision in an 4500-lb vehicle "

Clearly, heavy vehicles are a menace! It's time to discourage them....

"This is what happens when markets are not allowed to function "

It's what happens when regulations are subverted (i.e., the CAFE SUV loophole). Clearly, we need better regulation, more democracy, and less power in the hands of special interests.

Nick G said at June 17, 2008 9:13 AM:

"If hydrogen vehicle costs ever come down then hydrogen vehicles might make sense some day for longer range travel. "

Conceivably. But, as I'm sure you're aware, you're being very, very generous to portable fuel cells. Battery costs continue to fall - already their amortized costs are lower than fuel. It's very hard to imagine fuel cells ever catching up. And, of course, they've have to be much better than batteries to overcome the other advantages of batteries: cheaper fuel (direct electricity), greater efficiency, and infrastructure that's already widely available.

rsilvetz said at June 17, 2008 11:57 AM:

Regarding CAFE subversion -- uh no. It absurd on its face to mandate by fiat what is a purely level-of-technology factor. In other words, if average tech delivers certain power per fuel unit, the mpg is then fixed as per weight of the vehicle. In fact, that's what happened. Since it is impossible to increase fossil fuel energy density the net result was a drop in total car weight to meet CAFE standards -- thus absurdly small cars -- the subcompact death traps. OR it results in CLASS-SHIFTING -- since light trucks/minivans had a better CAFE profile (read: legal fiat profile) at the average level of tech, thus the shift to SUV/minivans/light trucks. Geez... another example of .gov f'ing it up. Can we get away from central planning now?

The absurdity continues with comments by politicians about becoming more efficient in our use of fossil fuels in general. Never mind that you are facing massive diminishing returns at this point since we pretty much have kept energy usage constant while doubling our overall level of economic activity. Arguably, new building construction can create constructs that use 30% of the energy of today's buildings, but since we are not going to tear down the country, it's not a solution for anything.

Energy and fuel are plentiful. We need free markets in energy as rapidly as we can create them. Which means - open the continental shelves, antarctica, ANWAR, deep sea (without UN taxes!), nuclear, coal, solar, wind. Let them all compete without subsidies or favoritisms and let the best delivery system win.

Nick G said at June 17, 2008 12:26 PM:

" if average tech delivers certain power per fuel unit,"

Ah, but it doesn't. Or, perhaps, the problem is the phrase "average tech" - perhaps we want "slightly above average tech".

"it results in CLASS-SHIFTING "

Actually, the shift to SUV's had a lot to do with their higher profitability.

"another example of .gov f'ing it up"

No, an example of private industry messing it up. The light truck loophole made a little bit of sense to begin with - it was a primitive attempt to adjust for weight, where it was needed for commercial uses. The moment people started driving light trucks for ordinary passenger use through that loophole, it should have been tightened, but the industry prevented that.

"you are facing massive diminishing returns"

Not really - technology continues to advance, and produce new low-hanging fruit. For instance, greater engine efficiency has gone towards greater power, not fuel efficiency - do we really need "sport" trucks & station wagons??

"We need free markets in energy as rapidly as we can create them."

Yes, and those markets need to include all costs. Costs are always a social convention -for instance, accounting for future pension costs, or stock options. In this case, we need regulation to ensure that externalities (like direct pollution, CO2, supply security, mining damage, occupational health, etc, etc) are included in the costs.

Unfortunately, private industry (and, to be fair, the voters) blocked such sensible accounting, so we had to rely excessively on regulation like CAFE to achieve the kind of efficiency we would have gotten with proper pricing. Look at Europe - there fuel is priced properly, and the vehicles are much more efficient (and scarcer).

Jerry Martinson said at June 17, 2008 7:17 PM:

Doing the math on an envelope, it sure seems to me that hyrdrogen fuel cells for personal automotive transport seem like they could be at a dead end. PHEV40's etc.. seem like they will cost far less than fuel cell vehicles and will have a dramatic reduction in most gasoline usage for personal transport. The well-to-wheel efficiency of hydrogen vehicles isn't terribly impressive compared to a PHEV. We're not running _out_ of oil, it's just going to get a _LOT_ more expensive.

TheSpyofCyberpunk said at June 19, 2008 12:34 PM:

"Get ready for traffic fatalities going thru the roof as people make insane short-term economic decisions to buy the hybrid and hydrogen death-trap vehicles."

Agreed, it needs to be gradual, with hydrogen being the dominant energy source by 2025 not 2010.

Paul F. Dietz said at June 22, 2008 7:10 AM:

Why is a hybrid a "death trap vehicle"? Does putting batteries and a motor/generator in somehow make the car dangerous?

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