Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fool sell

The FCX CostlyHonda 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 UnClarityHonda 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.


Robj98168 said...

Honda dont get it. I did a post on NEV's on MOnday I personally think we are doing to have to go electrics as hybrids will cost too much and the infrastructure to support hydrogen vehicles will cost too much. And the cool thing is, the think is norwegian!

Anonymous said...

Personally I'd love to see showrooms with this car in it instead of the new hybrids and all the other unsustainable vehicles.

I want one that looks like a pickup truck! My own person powered SUV.

DC said...

Not only is most hydrogen produced from nonrenewable sources, but even when made from renewable energy, it is still much less efficient to use for transportation than batteries. First, electricity has to be generated to make hydrogen, then the hydrogen has to be transported to a fueling station, then it has to be converted back into electricity with a fuel cell to run your car! That's right, hydrogen cars have electric motors and run on electricity -- they just generate the electricity in the car using a fuel cell. It's much, much more efficient just to generate the electricity once and then then store it in car batteries. Hydrogen based transportation also requires an the development of an expensive infrastructure (funded by government handouts to large corporations?), whereas we already have the system pretty much in place to charge electric cars.

Justin Fay said...

I'll have to disagree with you on the pricing and infrastructure of this thing, Crunchy.

Computers cost $2000 in 1980 dollars and had very little software available for them when they first came out; now you can get one for under $200 2008 dollars and there's software all over the place. Cell phones similarly were expensive when they first came out, and had very little coverage until the infrastructure was built for them. TVs were expensive when they came out, and there were very few channels to recieve. And, of course, gas-powered cars themselves started out expensive and with very few gas stations to fill them at. So the price and infrastructure argument is completely unfair, since that's the case with every new technology that's ever come out. (Internet access used to be more expensive, and with relatively few websites available, but here you are with a blog today!)

EcoBurban said...

100K? Really? And for the celebrities only? Just another example of the twisted sense of eco-humor in our country.

Crunchy Chicken said...

usage unit - Yes, I understand the implications of economies of scale. Honda stated that with the increased demand that they would be able to squeak it under $100K in under a decade.

So, sure it might be down into a more affordable range in twenty years, but in the meantime there is a viable alternative in the electric vehicle where the technology is available. Now.

What do you think people are going to choose? Will the economy of scale for fuel cell vehicles ever get reached in 20 years if people have a better, cheaper alternative with the EV?

Why bother investing in new infrastructure when, as DC pointed out above, there already exists one for EVs?

Wendy said...

I lived in Germany several years ago. Gas prices in the early 90s in Europe were what we're seeing here today. I didn't have a car the whole time I was there, and I didn't really need one, either. I walked, used the train or shared rides to every where I went. Instead of trying to build a new, improved car, the Europeans constructed a system of paths so that cyclists and walkers could be safe, and they had a phenomenal mass transit system.

Walking isn't a "recreation" in Germany. It's a way to get from Point A to Point B.

We'd do well to take a lesson from them.

Jenette said...

Hay ... We (ARB) didn't kill the Electric Car! We might of let it die, but we are also the ones that forced them to be produced. I think that hydrogen is not as efficient as electric for cars but choices need to be available.

ruchi said...

Oh my god!! The Think Ox is SUPER CUTE!!! I want one!!

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping my old Saab will stay together until the Think cars are available in here. I can get to the nearest park and ride and back for an entire week (100 miles) on a single charge, which will cost me about $2.50 in electricity. Maybe I won't have to give up my 5 acre homestead wanna-be after all!

maryann said...

I'm not at all sold on the fuel cell car concept. I've been looking for a EV for a while now but they are hard to find available on the east coast. I wouldn't feel guilty charging it either since I buy 100% renewable energy . We wanted to put PV panels on the house this year but found out we'd have to remove all the trees to do so, which isn't an option for me, I like my trees. So I settle for purchasing renewable and would love a EV to commute in. Won't solve the yearly trip to visit my mom but will help to go back and forth to work. I still keep hoping for a car like in Back to the Future that will run on waste, How great would that be!

nemo said...

Unfortunately, what is truly unsustainable is how much energy people use (or should I say waste) everyday. And the only remedy is to make energy expensive.

There is no such thing as a free lunch or "clean energy" for that matter. All forms of energy create pollution and all pollute to about the same degree too.

What really needs to change is absurd behaviors like eating bananas everyday. Yes bananas. Take a look at the NYT article today to see why this so absurd. Why we ship fragile food items thousands of miles in refrigerated trucks and use our military to make sure we can still sell them cheaper than apples (that should ring a bell in Washington!).

It is truly sad that our society has become so warped by cheap oil that most people probably don't even consider bananas a source of pollution, deforestation and unbridled waste.

Anonymous said...

The thing to remember about hydrogen is that it is an energy carrier- not a source. It is not found by itself but only attached to other elements such as oxygen or carbon. Thus to produce hydrogen in quantity we must split it off of compounds it is a part of- by electrolysis we can split it off of water or we can also split it off of methane/natural gas. This of course takes energy- generally more than is produced in terms of the hydrogen generated. This doesn't even include infrastructure, transport and so on.

Also there are some serious unresolved issues surrounding hydrogen- it is not found naturally by itself which does lead on to wonder what producing it in large quantities would do. There is some evidence that it will exacerbate both the ozone hole/thinning issue and also climate change as well- both of these need further research.

I am so totally grossed out by the PR attempts of auto companies to delude the public into believing that H powered cars will be a reality in their lives. I do expect better from Honda- that is more what I would expect from the US auto companies.

As well one of my fears is that in general, leaving aside H cars for the moment, there will be more efficient cars coming out over the next few years but they will be pricey. So the folks with means will be driving the hybrids and such while the lower income unwashed masses will be struggling to gas up their aging SUV fleet. I personally have a 14 year old Toyota which I had the engine, etc rebuilt in as it gets over 40 mpg- I could never afford to replace it so it has to last. If it ever got hit or stolen I'd be in trouble- there aren't any cheap used cars around that get high mpg.....

Anonymous said...

Yes Hydrogen is the most abundant element on earth. However, it's mostly locked up in water and hydrocarbons. So how do we get the hydrogen? We use energy.

And on the point of an energy panacea, I don't think there is one. I think we're going to have to use a little of this, a little of that, and some others as well.

Popular Entertainment Review said...

When the gas prices reach $8.00 a gallon, the car companies will start getting really smart. They'll be so green they'll contribute to saving the whales with every electric car they sell! America is too cheap to gush money at the gas station for too long.

humanisto said...

Wow. What planet are you living on? It must be a small one...because people definitely want to go more than a hundred miles on a trip, that is not a misperception.

Nor do they want to live in fear that they will be stranded on the side of the road when their car runs out of electrons.

I'm not saying that EVs don't have their place...likely amongst yuppie soccer moms running errands around town...but your attitude towards HVs is defeatist.

Greenpa said...

eeeh. There are some quirks here, though, that are not clear yet. One of them being; standard electricity tends to come from coal: the energy conversion efficiency of coal->electricity is what, 30%? I think. Then you lose a huge amount of it in the transmission lines...

Hydrogen IS long way off; but one of the potentials, some day; you have your own small wind generator- and use the windy days to make your own hydrogen, via electrolyzing water (not as easy as they tell you, but not impossible).

And one of the GOOD things about fuel cells is; their energy conversion efficiency is WAY higher than coal; like 50%? Theoretical max over 80%.

Anyway. I'm not ready to do golden showers on fuel cell vehicles yet... :-)

Green Bean said...

I actually saw this very cool car today in my own town. It was plugged into an outdoor outlet, just charging away.

Laura said...

What about the (conspiracy?) theory that the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are just an imaginary carrot that is being dangled to distract us from real world viable solutions that are basically available today?