Whatever the fuel cell electric vehicle skeptics say — and they’ve said plenty on this site — it hasn’t stopped California from forging ahead with its ambitious plans for a statewide hydrogen fueling infrastructure. So, at least for the time being, it sure looks like FCEVs are here to stay.
We just heard from Hyundai about why that company is still committed to FCEVs (hint: crossover vehicles), so now let’s see why Honda has just pumped $13.8 million into California’s FCEV market.
More FCEV Fuel Stations For California
However, the company isn’t letting any grass grow under its feet. Honda is putting the extra time to good use by helping to firm up the fuel infrastructure.
Honda’s $13.8 million for FCEV fuel stations will go to the company FirstElement Fuel. That adds a nice big chunk of change to the $27.6 million grant for hydrogen fuel stations that FirstElement won from the State of California last summer.
When that state grant crossed our radar, we took note that FirstElement was partnering with the firm Black and Veatch to build the stations. Black and Veatch is a global company that gets things done, so it sure looks like there will be a lot more hydrogen availability in California sooner rather than later.
According to Honda, when you combine its funding with the state grant and the expectation of more to come, FirstElement is looking to build at least 31 stations.
Honda Hearts FCEVs
Those of you who follow FCEVs may recall that Honda launched a first-generation FCEV back in 2002, which was followed by the FCX Clarity in 2008.
That second-generation FCEV garnered the 2009 “World Green Car of the Year” award, and now Honda is doing third-generation.
Here’s the lowdown on Honda’s new FCEV concept for production year 2016, unveiled in Japan earlier this week:
The next evolution in Honda’s dynamic FCV styling, the concept vehicle features a low and wide aerodynamic body with clean, flowing lines. A new, more compact powertrain allows for more passenger room inside the vehicle, striking an elegant balance between man and machine. The FCV concept also features a more powerful, 33% smaller fuel cell, with 60% greater power density. This offers a targeted driving range of over 300 miles and a three- to five-minute refueling time.
Pulling Out All The Stops For FCEVs
Recent developments for Honda also include a collaboration with GM, which could mean that Honda is looking to tap into the potentially super-lucrative US military market for FCEVs (GM is the Army’s partner in the world’s first FCEV fleet demo project, in Hawaii).
We’re guessing that Honda is eyeballing the military market because that sector puts a high priority on two advantages that fuel cells currently claim over conventional EV batteries: super-quick refueling and energy density. Vehicle and battery lifecycle issues could also play a role in winning military hearts and minds over to FCEVs.
Speaking of partnerships, competition with the battery EV market certainly hasn’t stopped Honda from forming some interesting partnerships. In addition to working with GM, Honda also just inked a $50 million megadeal with SolarCity, a company headed up by that same guy who heads up Tesla Motors, Elon Musk.
The SolarCity deal provides Honda and Acura customers and dealerships with financing for distributed solar energy projects. That’s on top of $65 million that the two companies committed last year, so you’re really talking about the big bucks.
Naturally you’re thinking that the home-scaled solar installations will go for home battery EV charging, and that’s what we were thinking, too — until we realized that Honda already has a small scale hydrogen fuel production and dispensing station in the works, that runs partly on solar power.
Honda also has a solar-enabled “Smart Home” collaboration going on with UC-Davis. As of now the home is geared for charging the battery of a Honda Fit EV, but as solar powered hydrogen production technology matures, a home-scale system would dovetail with the FCEV market.
The 800 Pound Natural Gas Gorilla In The Room
That leads us to hydrogen sourcing. When we say solar-powered hydrogen production we’re referring to water-splitting. Hydrogen sourced from landfill gas and renewable biogas is also becoming a thing, but the sad fact is that right now the hydrogen market is dominated by fossil natural gas.
Those of you who follow natural gas fracking issues know why that takes the “zero” out of zero emissions for FCEVs in terms of the fuel supply chain. For that matter, many battery EV owners are still charging up with electricity sourced at least partly from fossil energy, but we digress.
Let’s note for the record that FirstElement is transitioning out of fossil sources. Right now the company claims that about one-third of its hydrogen comes from renewable sources, and it’s looking to increase that number.
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