Today, Honda Motor Company announced, what I believe, will be the next generation after fossil fuel powered road transport. The hydrogen fuel cell powered motor vehicle, which in it’s current incarnation, Honda call FCX Clarity.
Hybrid motor vehicles, like Toyota’s Prius and the recently glad-handed Camry hybrid to be put together at Altona, are not the answer we, the motoring public, require. As a motoring enthusiast, I want a vehicle which will perform as well or better than the current crop of petroleum fuelled, internal combustion powered vehicles. I can hear the detractors now. Electric vehicles can’t match petrol powered cars. Here’s some stats, converted to metric for Aussie readers:
|Honda FCX Clarity||Imperial Measure||Metric Measure|
|Power Output||134 hp||100kw|
|Torque Output||189 ft-lb||256nm|
|Honda Civic VTi 1.8l|
|Torque Output||128 ft-lb||174nm|
There’s not a lot between the two in terms of an ability to jump from the lights, or pull up a hill. Clearly, the electric motor has the torque, but that’s likely to be due to gearing. It’s the range of the fuel cell vehicle which impresses me, and that’s because my hip pocket nerve has been in spasm for months now. 68 miles per gallon, or in metric speak, 3.46 litres per 100 km(28.9 km/l). Outstanding!
So, the next question? What’s a litre of hydrogen worth to buy? There are many different ways of producing hydrogen, from power intensive (read: carbon generating) electrolysis to wind-power generated cracking of water and numerous others in between. Natural gas conversion by heating NG in a steam environment for example. Complicated. As with fossil fuels, you can practically guarantee that market speculators, hedge funds and other greed-driven investment entities will push the price of hydrogen just as they’ve pushed the price of oil, but hopefully, such non-market driven speculation will be outlawed before we reach dependency on H2. In 2002 the price of a kilogram of H2 was US$0.80. Today, it’s around US$1.30. There’s an interesting four year old article on the subject here.
Remember though, that this technology, while used to power the space shuttle and on a grand scale, launch it into orbit, is brand new on a mass produced consumer demand driven scale. I believe that like DVD players, as the technology matures, becomes more compact, more efficient, more vehicles are sold and we see major transport adopt the mode, the relative cost of producing hydrogen will reduce. It’s not as if hydrogen is a finite resource. We can make as much as we want, literally forever. Well, until the Sun swells and bakes the planet to a crisp anyway.
With all that taken into account and Honda announcing the Clarity as a mass produced second generation vehicle from today, I’m left wondering just how much fuel cell vehicle the federal government could have bought for $35m aussie tax payer dollars? Would Honda have considered setting up a Meccano set factory in Australia for a $35m gift? Begs the question, doesn’t it?