We’ve been hearing more about cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells in the last few weeks, with Toyota expanding its hydrogen vehicle program earlier this month, and new entrant SunHydro unveiling plans to build hydrogen fueling stations along east coast highways. But today we head from the anointed leader in this new racket, Honda, which not only has a car in development (already approved for sale in the U.S.), but just successfully tested its own hydrogen fueling mechanism.
Running on solar energy, the company’s new pump produces about half a kilogram of hydrogen gas a day, enough to power a car through an average day’s commute. Here’s how it works: Rooftop solar panels channel about 6 kilowatts of energy into a tank of water, which is split. The hydrogen gas is then contained until the car needs to fuel up.
This is an interesting strategy for Honda — one that could provide a model for Toyota, Daimler and General Motors, which all have hydrogen fuel cell models in the works. One of the biggest challenges to any of the advanced vehicles poised to hit the road — plug-in models included — is that there isn’t fueling infrastructure to support them. It’s unclear what needs to come first: the cars themselves, or adequate charging and fueling stations. By pursuing both in-house, Honda may have found a promising solution to this conundrum.
Honda seems to be way ahead of the game in other areas too. For one, it’s already putting driver in hydrogen-powered cars, whereas Toyota, a close runner up, is looking ahead to a 2013 public release. It’s leasing fuel-cell sedans from a company called FCX Clarity to consumers for $600 a month in Los Angeles — the only U.S. city equipped with hydrogen fueling stations.
If General Motors and others follow Honda’s lead and develop their own fueling station designs, what will the average highway look like? Will a standard emerge that can service across brands? Will hydrogen trump electric charging and battery switching stations proposed by the likes of Coulomb Technologies and Better Place? There’s a lot of action in this field to come.