Honda unveiled the concept car for its new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle or FCV, the FCV CONCEPT, at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. The high-tech, luxurious four-door sedan’s fuel cell system is small enough to fit under the hood, 33 percent smaller than the last version. It takes up about the same amount of space as typical V6 engine. Honda’s previous hydrogen car, the FCX Clarity, entered production in 2008. The company will replace it with a less expensive, more efficient, more powerful FCV. The new FCV will go on sale in Japan by the end of March 2016, and it should be available in the U.S. and Europe soon after. Here’s some more information on the FCV CONCEPT and its new technology.
How the FCV CONCEPT Works
The FCV CONCEPT and other hydrogen vehicles run on hydrogen gas that’s stored in high-pressure tanks. The FCV CONCEPT has a smaller tank under the rear seat and a larger one behind the trunk. The hydrogen goes through a fuel cell stack that mixes it with atmospheric oxygen to create electricity, which powers the engine. Only water vapor comes out of the exhaust pipe. Many people even say it should be clean enough to drink, at least in theory.
The FCV CONCEPT also has a small lithium-ion battery pack like many hybrid vehicles. It’s located under the front seats, and it charges itself through regenerative braking and with excess energy created by the hydrogen fuel cell. The FCV CONCEPT is also quiet like a hybrid or electric vehicle, with almost no engine noises. The motor provides full torque at zero RPM, so acceleration is brisk.
Fuel Cost and Availability
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it has to be extracted from other substances like water. Fortunately, the energy used to extract the hydrogen often comes from a renewable sources like wind or solar, just like the power to used to charge electric cars. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy developed a new way to extract hydrogen from water with a nickel catalyst instead of a much more expensive platinum catalyst.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology is still very new. Honda built less than 75 FCX Clarity models, and most were leased in Southern California. Most other areas in the U.S. still don’t have a convenient amount of hydrogen filling stations, but the technology should be more accessible soon. Honda is promoting its Smart Hydrogen Station or SHS to make the FCV practical for people in more places. California is also funding the creation of more hydrogen fuel stations, and other states will likely follow.
To meet California’s new advanced vehicle requirements, car companies in the state will need to sell 1.4 million electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2025. Ten other states, including New York and New Jersey, plan to implement similar policies. That would raise the number of advanced vehicles needed to at least 3 million.
Why FCVs Are Better than Electric Vehicles
Hydrogen vehicles like the FCV CONCEPT are much more efficient than electric cars. Since the batteries are smaller and lighter, less energy is needed to move the car. The hydrogen storage tanks only add about 10 pounds. Batteries in electric cars also lose a small amount of their energy every day that they’re not used. An electric car might not start if it’s parked for too long. They also can take a long time to recharge, while drivers can refuel a FCV CONCEPT in just three minutes, about the same amount of time as a gasoline vehicle. The FCV CONCEPT can also last over 300 miles between refills. An electric car with a range to match doesn’t even exist yet.
The new Honda FCV CONCEPT has more interior space than the previous FCX Clarity. Thanks to its smaller fuel cell system, along with other new powertrain packaging efficiencies, it can seat five adults comfortably. The FCX Clarity could only carry four people. In addition, the front and back seats have plenty of legroom. The FCV CONCEPT also has a large digital infotainment touchscreen system, a digital speedometer, and a power moonroof. The touchscreen system also includes a wide range of advanced safety, communication, and security features. Since it’s in the middle of the dashboard, people sitting in the back seat can enjoy movies and other entertainment along with other passengers. In future production models, people will be able to choose between leather and synthetic upholstery. The comfortable angular steering wheel even looks like it came from a driving video game.
Honda has also developed the Power Exporter CONCEPT, a concept model for an external, AC-powered feeding device with a maximum output of 9 kW. The Power Exporter was tested on the FCX Clarity, and it will allow the FCV to work as a small mobile power plant. That way, Honda hydrogen vehicles can help generate electricity for communities.
Performance and Style
The FCV CONCEPT has a sleek, sporty look and a low, wide, aerodynamic body. Its this headlights give it a unique, modern look. It’s also missing door handles, so the doors can only be opened remotely. For now, the interior comes in black and white. Buyers will also be able to pick gray when the car goes on sale in 2016.
The new fuel cell system has an output of more than 100 kW and an output density as high as 3.1 kW per Liter. It’s 60 percent more powerful than the previous system used for the FCX Clarity. The FCV also has one of the first in Honda’s new line of fuel-efficient, four-cylinder VTEC turbo engines. Along with other automakers, Honda is starting to use small-displacement turbocharged engines as a way comply with future government fuel economy standards and demand from customers for efficiency and power. Turbo charging and direct fuel injection helps smaller engines perform like bigger ones. The new federal standards require companies to average 54.5 miles per gallon in lab tests that simulate combined city and highway driving by 2025. That means the official combined EPA rating would be about 40 mpg.
The new engines will go into production later this year at Honda’s Anna, Ohio plant. This is the company’s biggest engine plant globally. Honda is spending $340 million to add a new assembly line and make other improvements for the new engines. This line of turbo engines will probably carry Honda’s “Earth Dreams” designation, along with many existing gas and electric engines and transmissions that are designed for fun driving and great fuel economy. Honda hasn’t sold vehicles with turbocharged engines for consumers before, but it has made turbocharged engines for racecars. The company returned to Formula One racing this year with a modified hybrid powertrain design.
The FCV CONCEPT makes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles more familiar to everyone, beginning a new age of innovation. Hydrogen is even less expensive than gasoline. The FCV is the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell sedan with a powertrain that can fit under the hood. The smaller engine will make more designs possible, giving customers more choices.
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