More Environment-Friendly, Fuel Cell Powered Hondas to Traverse Streets of Los Angeles Soon
This is latest buzz words in car industry, but what is it really all about?
Honda FCX powered by Honda fuel cells.
It has been two years since Honda released Honda FCX which has become first fuel cell vehicle in world to receive government certification, paving way for commercial use of fuel cell vehicles. This comes as no surprise as Honda has always been an advocate of environmental consciousness and a pioneer in developing cutting edge technology in protecting environment. The fuel-cell is propelled by electricity generated by a hydrogen-oxygen chemical reaction, and its only emission, amazingly, is water vapor. Now, with a fresh stamp of approval from Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board, Honda is delivering a family of new FCX fuel-cell vehicles to its first customer, city of Los Angeles, known for its strict environmental emission rules to eliminate overwhelming air pollution already at its midst.
The latest version of Honda fuel cells delivers about 15% more maximum drive motor torque than previous prototypes and also provides improvements in mid-to-high range power output characteristics and acceleration. It also has an amplified driving range of 220 miles, about 25 miles more than previous model.
How does fuel cell work?
In principle, a fuel cell functions like a battery. Dissimilar from a battery though, a fuel cell does not run down or require recharging. It will produce energy in form of electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied. The type of fuel cell used in Honda FCX is called a Polymer electrolyte fuel cell. Powered by Hydrogen gas fuel cell provides power to FCX's AC synchronous electric motor to give FCX a top speed of around 93 mph. With engine output at around 60kW, Honda claims clean FCX has similar performance to its petrol drinking brother, Honda Civic. Fuel Cells produce electricity from an external fuel supply as opposed to limited internal energy storage capacity of a battery.
A fuel cell system, which includes a "fuel reformer", can utilize hydrogen from any hydrocarbon fuel - from natural gas to methanol, and even gasoline. Since fuel cell relies on chemistry and not combustion, emissions from this type of a system would still be much smaller than emissions from cleanest fuel combustion processes. In fact fuel cells running on hydrogen derived from a renewable source will emit nothing but water vapor. Water vapor being its only exhaust, a fuel cell powered vehicle such as Honda FCX produces completely no harmful emissions into atmosphere. Fuel cells were first used in a practical application by NASA in 1960’s for their Apollo space program. For decades sensible fuel cell application was regarded as too costly and too difficult for automobile usage. Through constant research and development its utilization may become a reality, only problem that crops up is source for refueling.
Honda’s proposed solution for refueling stations.
If fuel cell powered cars ever become popular, gas stations may soon have to start supplying hydrogen as well as their regular petroleum based products. But since currently there are only a handful of them around, this may be far from happening.
Until then, Honda will continue to do some research on other possible solutions. An experimental Home Energy Station (HES) is seen as most feasible. The HES could generate hydrogen from natural gas for use in fuel cell vehicles while supplying electricity and hot water to home. The new HES system that has been jointly developed with strategic fuel cell partner Plug Power Inc. is located on grounds of Honda R&D Americas in Torrance, California, and will undergo experiments in hydrogen production, storage and fueling, as part of ongoing research into hydrogen energy sources. The new HES system, which can currently produce enough hydrogen to refill tank of a Honda FCX hydrogen fuel cell vehicle taking just a few minutes once a day.