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On the Edge of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Future?

The FCX+HES combination can supply power to the grid and pull power from the grid as needs change throughout the day.

Published: 09-Feb-2006

hydrogen fuel cell vehicle concept, once the darling of the cybergreen/hypercar crowd, has diminished in luster over the past few years. Perhaps it was due to the sluggish pace of development. Perhaps it was due to the all-too-eager embrace of the technology by political and corporate figures well known to favor continued dominance of the petroleum economy. Perhaps it had just started to feel dated, like talking about freezing your head after you die -- a vaguely-embarrassing symbol of a particular era of futurism. That proponents of hydrogen cars kept talking about them being "just a decade away" even as the years progressed didn't help matters.

Honda may change all that.

Last month, Honda announced that it would begin production in Japan of its fuel cell FCX vehicle within the next three to four years. The FCX line has been Honda's fuel cell vehicle prototype for a few years now, and beyond a handful of experimental locations, the car seemed ill-suited to regular use. Tiny, somewhat underpowered, and saddled with a range about half of a typical gasoline-fueled car -- not that you could go long distances away from the one or two hydrogen fueling stations in the state anyway -- the FCX simply wasn't an attractive option. The new FCX design, however, changes all of that, and manages to induce something that previous hydrogen fuel cell vehicles couldn't: auto lust.

Sleek, roomy, and built upon Honda's latest-generation fuel cell system -- a stack providing a hundred kilowatts of power (that's a respectable 134 horsepower) and a hydrogen storage tank allowing over 350 miles range -- Honda's production prototype FCX suddenly looks like a viable contender. As for the fueling issue, two developments may mitigate the problem, at least a bit. In California, the "hydrogen highway" initiative continues to move forward (PDF), promising hydrogen fueling stations every 20 miles along major highways in the state. More importantly, Honda has coupled the announcement of the FCX production with the latest generation of its Home Energy Station (HES) -- and it's this combination that could make the FCX a winner.

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