Honda Motors has officially revealed the production FCV Hydrogen-Fuel Cell Vehicle, its answer to the Toyota Mirai. ‘FCV’ is a placeholder until the car’s actual name is officialised.
Set to make its world debut at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, the FCV — like the Mirai — is as polarizing to the eye as you would expect but nevertheless sports Honda’s latest design language. It has a sleek four-door coupe design similar to the new Civic sedan’s.
The rather upscale interior, however, is less controversial and is covered in plenty of leather, wood and metallic trim that shake up the monotonous color scheme the Japanese automaker has been known for. It looks clean and — we imagine — features some pretty nifty technology.
Honda says the FCV’s fuel-cell powertrain will offer a driving range of up to 435 miles (700 km) before needing to refuel, which is notably higher than the Toyota Mirai’s 312 miles (502 KM). Its high-output electric motors supposedly delivers an “exhilarating” driving experience.
Should the Toyota Mirai be worried?
Toyota Makes Hydrogen-Powered Semi Truck With 300-Mile Range
Toyota’s hydrogen-powered Class 8 semi truck project has resulted in a second iteration of its original prototype known as Beta.
The first Project Portal made its debut in April 2017 featuring a pair of Mirai powertrains that allowed it to produce 1,325 pound-feet of torque and more than 670 horsepower, carry up to 80,000 pounds (36,287 kg), and travel more than 200 miles (322 km) per fill. It has logged nearly 10,000 miles of testing and real-world drayage operations in and around the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
Beta (Project Portal 2.0) expands on these capabilities with an increase in range to more than 300 miles (483 km). It also boasts a sleeper cab and a unique fuel cabinet combination that increases the cab space without increasing the wheelbase.
Andrew Lund, chief engineer for the project, stated:
“By evaluating the first truck in our test facilities and on the actual roads in the LA area, we made a list of improvements for the Beta truck build process and performance enhancements. We needed to move beyond a proof of concept, which the first truck accomplished, to something that is not only better than the original but is also more commercially viable.”
Toyota begins real world testing of its latest hydrogen-electric Class 8 Semi in fall 2018 in pursuit of commercial viability. It hopes to capture a slice of the drayage truck market.
Audi, Hyundai Team Up To Build Hydrogen Cars For The Masses
Audi and Hyundai have teamed up to develop hydrogen fuel cells in an effort to bring the technology to the masses in a timely manner.
The two companies will share patents and have access to each other’s non-competitive components.
Audi is already working on a sporty, hydrogen-powered SUV and plans to begin small-scale production at the beginning of the next decade. It has been developing the technology that will power the model in-house, so it looks like the tie-up with Hyundai will place a greater emphasis on the mass production of other vehicles further into the future.
- Fuel Cell Electric Cars Are Not The Future, But Maybe Later
- Hyundai Nexo Has Best Range Of Any Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle
In contrast to the sentiments expressed by most other automakers, both companies see a bright future for hydrogen, especially as the technology pertain to larger vehicles that would otherwise require an massive battery pack to offer an acceptable amount of zero-emissions driving range. Short refueling times is another advantage hydrogen-powered vehicles have over battery-powered electric vehicles.
Peter Mertens, Audi’s board member for technical development, stated:
“The fuel cell is the most systematic form of electric driving and thus a potent asset in our technology portfolio for the emission-free premium mobility of the future.”
A joint statement published by Audi and Hyundai revealed that they are exploring the terms and benefits of a more far-reaching collaboration in the field of hydrogen but not when we’ll see the first jointly-develop products on the road. There is a good chance that Hyundai’s sister brand Kia will also benefit from this partnership.
Fuel Cell Electric Cars Are Not The Future, But Maybe Later
The word on the street a decade or two ago was that fuel-cell electric vehicles were the future; fast forward to today, and Toyota, which bet big on hydrogen-powered cars, is looking increasingly isolated as rival automakers double down on battery electric vehicles.
There has been much talk about the death of the internal combustion engine (ICE) ever since Tesla Motors made the electric car cool, talk that in many ways echoes the rhetoric that prevailed when the first commercially-available hybrid vehicles hit the scene, talk that has been fueled by the reluctant but gradual shift of the automotive industry towards pure electrification. However, whereas hybrids still rely on the ICE for motivation, the extent of today’s electrification renders the age-old technology irrelevant. If electric cars do end up ruling our roads, death of the ICE is surely inevitable.
The first fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) arrive just when the fledgling battery electric car segment is gaining traction, presenting the world’s automakers with two potentially viable “zero-emissions” vehicle options. Hybrid tech bridged the gab between the gas engine and the two methods of pure electrification, and now it’s time for the industry to decide on which one to bet its billions on.
Going Against The Tide
It’s Deja vu all over again. During a time when most automakers counted on gas-powered cars to remain the one-and-only means of transportation, Honda and Toyota saw it fit to shake things up, each releasing a hybrid car that critics often mocked as vapourware. Honda’s hybrid, the Insight, proved them correct, but the Toyota Prius would go on to single-handily start a revolution, dominating the newly-established segment and fending off all new competitors without issue.
Today, “Prius” is synonymous with hybrids, and that is likely what Toyota is hoping to achieve with the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, which may be part of a broader company initiative to develop a fuel cell ecosystem in an industry increasingly entrenching itself in the battery electric camp. Honda is gunning for the same with its Clarity FCEV, as is Korea’s Hyundai with a number of products. However, most other automakers have while a few like General Motors and Ford are dabbling.
Similar Results, Different Processes
(BEV) are powered by one or more electric motors that source their energy from electricity stored in a battery pack, which are recharged using grid electricity either from a wall socket or a dedicated charging unit. Since they don’t run on gasoline or diesel and are powered by electricity, the popular belief is that they emit zero pollutants.
Owners must consider the hefty cost of potentially replacing the batteries of such vehicles, be it as a result of battery degradation or damage. Costs could be as much as US$6,000 for a mid-rage BEV like the Nissan Leaf and for a long-range BEV like the Chevrolet Bolt.
Fuel cell vehicles, on the other hand, use hydrogen gas to power their electric motor(s), combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and emitting nothing more than water and heat. Since they are powered entirely by electricity, fuel cell vehicles are considered electric vehicles; however, unlike battery-powered EVs, their range and refueling processes are similar to conventional cars.
BEVs and especially FCEVs command a hefty price premium over gasoline- and diesel-diesel-powered car because of their very low penetration and the rarity and higher cost of their constituent materials, such as cobalt and platinum. The Toyota Mirai, for instance, has a of approximately $58,000 in America before government incentives, while the most affordable long-range BEVs sticker at around US$35,000.
Electric cars offer a limited driving range, so there is also the issue of range anxiety. Not everyone can recharge at home and charging stations remain sparse, issues that are notably more pronounced when talking FCEVs.
Fortunately, the overall costs of both types of EVs are expected to decline as their market penetration increases.
Not So Green
While both BEVs and FCEVs produce little to no tailpipe pollution, the process that goes into getting one ready for consumption and up and going unfortunately does. With the former, if t local grid generates electricity from coal-fired power plants, then your car could potentially have large a carbon footprint. If, however, the grid incorporates a fair amount of renewable solar and wind energy, expect a clean electric vehicle.
We must also factor in other forms of environmental impact, such as the hidden emissions created by extracting (digging, mining, baking etc.) the precious rare metals used by batteries. In fact, a study by the found that it takes nearly twice as much energy to create a battery electric vehicle as it does a gas-powered one on a per-kilometre basis, resulting in more harmful pollutants. However, the same study found that, even after taking into account emissions from battery manufacturing, the average BEV generates half the emissions of a conventional car over the course of its life.
Disposing of half a tonne of batteries once they are no longer usable also poses a problem. They are not dumped in landfills as you might have thought. Most are recycled in an attempt to salvage and reuse their precious metals and other components. This results in added energy, time and money.
Similarly, producing, packaging and transferring the hydrogen used by fuel cells requires a large amount of energy that can result in greenhouse gas emissions and various other pollutants. According to , about 95% of industrial hydrogen is produced from natural gas, a fossil fuel—as with batteries, the goal is to shift that reliance to renewable energy sources like solar, wind and water.
Only One: Batteries Or Fuel Cells
Developing a car—any car—is very expensive, making it impractical to develop and sell on a comparable scale cutting-edge technologies like BEV and FCEVs at the same time. “One at a time” has been the mindset of most automakers—with Toyota, Honda and Hyundai (the biggest proponent of FCEV) all doubling back to battery electric powertrains in recent years, it is fairly clear where the overall industry is heading.
“The worst thing you can do is kind of half bake electric, then go off on another science project with fuel cells, then go running to another science project,” Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America, told when inquired about the Volkswagen Group’s full commitment to BEVs.
The biggest argument against fuel cells is that they are not as energy-efficient as lithium-ion and other modern battery technologies, with some studies estimating a factor of 3-to-1 in favor of batteries. A analysis looking at the environmental impact of a BEVs and FCEVs throughout their lifespan, one carried out by an international team of scientists headed by Swiss research institute Empa, found that FCEVs are ecologically sound only if they are able to run on hydrogen from renewable energy sources and, in their current state, don’t fare well in the eco-comparison with electric cars.
“First of all, electricity is needed to generate hydrogen, which the car tanks up on. Electricity is then produced from hydrogen again in the car. This double conversion significantly reduces the efficiency level,” the researchers noted. “People who use the same electricity to charge the battery in their electric cars directly travel more economically and thus in a more environmentally friendly way.”
When comparing the efficiency of modern BEVs and FCEV from the point of fueling (tank-to-wheels efficiency), the former does indeed come out on top. The Environmental Protection Agency’s miles-per-gallon-equivalent (MPGe) estimates—that is, the energy obtained by combustion of one US gallon of gasoline—reveals that the Toyota Mirai’s fuel efficiency of 67 MPGe pales in comparison to the Tesla Model S BEVs’ rating of up to 100 MPGe.
In an , fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel described a hydrogen economy as a wasteful economy, arguing that the large amount of energy required to get the hydrogen ready for use, in addition to the energy lost when it is converted to useful electricity, leaves around 25% (compared to 77% for batteries) for practical use, which is unacceptable to run an economy sustainably.
Bossel also pointed out the possible geopolitical ramifications of a hydrogen economy, an important piece of the equation that doesn’t get enough attention. “The advantages of hydrogen praised by journalists (non-toxic, burns to water, abundance of hydrogen in the Universe, etc.) are misleading, because the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare and may become political issues, as much as oil and natural gas are today,” he said in an with PhyOrg.
Another by scientists at Stanford University and the Technical University of Munich (TUM), this time comparing BEVs and FCEVs in a hypothetical future where the cost of electric vehicles is more affordable, arrived at the same general conclusion as Bossel and Empa’s researchers.
“We looked at how large-scale adoption of electric vehicles would affect total energy use in a community, for buildings as well as transportation,” said lead author Markus Felgenhauer, a doctoral candidate at TUM and former visiting scholar at the Stanford Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP). “We found that investing in all-electric battery vehicles is a more economical choice for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, primarily due to their lower cost and significantly higher energy efficiency.”
Not Now; Maybe Later
Whether or not hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are the future and a better value proposition than battery electric vehicles will be a topic of contention for years to come, but for the time being at least, it appears that the most important players in the emerging post-fossil fuel era have voted with their money. The world’s automakers, including ardent supporters of fuel cell technology like Toyota and Honda, are betting on batteries, having over the next 20 years.
FCEVs make up a mere fraction of electric sales, and the only real advantage that they currently have over their battery-powered counterparts is refueling speed. However, that’s not to say there is no future for fuel cells or that Toyota, Honda or other interested parties intend on giving up on the technology. There has already been significant investment in the area, a foundation has been set and have been made. Add to that the strong subsidies and marketplace incentives provided by , Korea, and parts of North America (i.e. California), and fuel-cells could still have fighting chance, with a potential to start a second wave of the EV revolution once renewable energy sources become readily available.
“We don’t really see an adversary ‘zero-sum’ relationship between the EV (electric vehicle) and the hydrogen car,” Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada told GF during the lead up to the 2017 Tokyo Auto Show. “We’re not about to give up on hydrogen electric fuel-cell technology at all.”
Unlikely as it might seem, a steadfast Toyota just might repeat history, positioned at the epicentre of a fuel-cell revolution that most dismissed—a repeat of the Prius era in many ways.