On Friday, Honda unveiled a new stationary fuel cell power system that will serve as the backup power for its data center at its American Honda headquarters in Torrance, California.
The stationary power system utilizes second life fuel cells taken from Honda’s Clarity Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles. The individual fuel cells are bundled together in 250 kW stacks, with two of these stacks installed at Honda’s facility. The twin stacks can put out more than 500 kW of power in total, which is more than sufficient to cover the 70 kW load of the full data center.
The system was put together as more of a proof of concept, though it will serve as the backup power for its data center in day-to-day operations. Hydrogen for the system comes from a local storage tank and can be supplemented with a trailer of hydrogen from suppliers like Praxair or Linde. It currently uses grey hydrogen though it can use blue or green hydrogen in the future as supply increases.
We spoke to the lead engineer for the system and he said that the locally stored hydrogen could power the data center for around 48 hours from the hydrogen kept on hand at which point Honda would bring in a trailer of hydrogen and be able to seamlessly begin using the new hydrogen. While small power outages are not uncommon in southern California, longer duration power outages are extremely rare.
The new hydrogen fuel cell power system represents a push for Honda into providing backup power systems and localized energy storage. The initial systems will utilize Honda’s existing fuel cells found in its Clarity though Honda continues to actively develop a next generation fuel cell system in partnership with General Motors.
Honda continues to be bullish on fuel cells for both stationary storage and in its vehicles based on its early progress with these next generation units. They are currently forecasting that the next generation fuel cells will cost one third of what the current fuel cells do.
Honda believes these fuel cells will provide the foundation for a completely new generation of passenger vehicles, starting with a Honda CRV based fuel cell vehicle which will go into production at its factory in Ohio in the midwestern United States in 2o24. Building on its existing passenger vehicle fleet, Honda plans to use these fuel cells as the backbone for larger and more capable fuel cell power systems like the one installed in Torrance at its facilities around the world.
Honda’s plans laid out a clear path from the current technologies to deploying fuel cells across its vehicle fleet with a special focus on heavy vehicles (see image below). Heavy vehicle segments like commercial vehicles and construction vehicles are definitely the lower hanging fruit when it comes to fuel cells as hydrogen production and fueling stations can be developed and installed at the point of use.
Public fueling infrastructure is still significantly lacking in density and reliability, even in Southern California, where several dozen stations have been installed. The size of the challenge and cost of developing zero emission hydrogen production, compression, distribution, and fueling where none exists cannot be understated. Battery electric vehicles, on the other hand, can charge up anywhere with an outlet in a pinch.
It is exciting to see the slow and steady progress Honda is making with hydrogen fuel cells, but it is hard seeing the new stationary power system installation in Torrance as anything more than a publicity stunt. It could be a path to the zero emission future eventually, but with the climate crisis causing significant, immediate challenges at the global scale each and every day, do we really have time to wait decades for Honda to deploy meaningful zero emission hydrogen solutions when they could be building and selling zero emission battery electric vehicles today?
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