Honda announced this week that they are ready for mass production of their hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity. Hooray! Sort of. Not really.
Well, it turns out that "mass production" means that they will be producing a whopping 200 vehicles over the next three years. These cars will mostly only be available in Southern CA as that is where the fuel cell station infrastructure is being built.
Here's another point that makes this wholly ridiculous as a transportation alternative. Currently these vehicles cost several hundred thousand dollars to make. So, "special" people such as film producers and Jamie Lee Curtis have been chosen to receive one of the first 5 off the production line. You see, Honda is essentially underwriting the cost of the car to be able to lease it for $600 a month. And they certainly aren't going to waste that on us regular people.
Honda predicts that the price will eventually drop to under $100,000 so that it's, you know, more affordable. Within a decade. A decade? Frankly, if Honda can't produce an affordable fuel cell vehicle in less than ten years (and these guys have been working on this technology longer than any other car manufacturer - 16 years) then the whole fuel cell industry sounds doomed as a viable option. And how is $100K affordable? It's not. How about $10K?
Honda argues that electric vehicles (EV) take too long to charge and that the energy being used is usually generated from coal burning power plants, so their fuel cell vehicle is a better option. In spite of the website declaring that "it runs on clean, domestically produced hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe", it's not mentioned exactly where the energy for distilling the hydrogen is coming from, but I suspect that the energy input is still more than the energy output. And more likely than not it will be from fossil fuel driven power plants.
So, what does get burned or used to generate the hydrogen sold at the hydrogen refueling stations? Even the CA Air Resources Board is a little sketchy on that point (for those of you who have watched Who Killed the Electric Car, you'll remember the CA Air Resources Board as being the dimwits that helped to kill it): "When operating directly with hydrogen, there are no polluting emissions and no greenhouse gases from a fuel cell, only water and heat. If the hydrogen is generated by reforming fossil fuels, some greenhouse gases are released..."
Honda also observed that a big remaining hurdle to true mass production is the lack of filling stations that sell hydrogen. Even in California, where the state government has led a push to build hydrogen stations, there are still very few public stations. That will make it hard to drive the car far from home, limiting its appeal. You think? And they complain that EVs don't go far enough.
So, why are we chasing fuel cell vehicles down the rabbit hole when there exists a technologically feasible alternative today with an EV? Well, because there is this misperception that people want and need a car that will go more than 100 miles per charge. Most people looking for a car are not travelling huge distances and have the ability to recharge their cars overnight. More recent EVs have a simple plug-in technology that allows users to plug their car into a standard outlet.
I don't know about you, but I'm banking on fusion over fuel cells as my energy panacea. In the meantime, I'll be awaiting the documentary, "Who Pulled the Plug on the Plug-in Hybrid?"
If you're depressed over today's post, here's something to cheer you up: the Th!nk Ox electric car. Coming soon to a road near you. For somewhere around $25,000.