City of Los Angeles Puts Honda FCX Into Service
It has been two years since Honda released the Honda FCX which has become the first fuel cell vehicle in the world to receive government certification, paving the way for the 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 the 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 the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board, Honda is delivering a family of new FCX fuel-cell vehicles to its first customer, the city of Los Angeles, known for its strict environmental emission rules to eliminate the overwhelming air pollution already at its midst.
The latest version of Honda fuel cells delivers about 15% more maximum drive motor torque than the 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 the previous model.
How does the 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 the form of electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied. The type of fuel cell used in the Honda FCX is called a Polymer electrolyte fuel cell. Powered by Hydrogen gas the fuel cell provides power to the FCX's AC synchronous electric motor to give the FCX a top speed of around 93 mph. With engine output at around 60kW, Honda claims the clean FCX has similar performance to the its petrol drinking brother, the Honda Civic. Fuel Cells produce electricity from an external fuel supply as opposed to the limited internal energy storage capacity of a battery.
A fuel cell system, which includes a "fuel reformer", can utilize the hydrogen from any hydrocarbon fuel - from natural gas to methanol, and even gasoline. Since the fuel cell relies on chemistry and not combustion, emissions from this type of a system would still be much smaller than emissions from the 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 the Honda FCX produces completely no harmful emissions into the atmosphere.
Fuel cells were first used in a practical application by NASA in the 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, the only problem that crops up is the 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 the most feasible. The HES could generate hydrogen from natural gas for use in fuel cell vehicles while supplying electricity and hot water to the home. The new HES system that has been jointly developed with strategic fuel cell partner Plug Power Inc. is located on the grounds of Honda RandD 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 the tank of a Honda FCX hydrogen fuel cell vehicle taking just a few minutes once a day.
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