Honda to Unveil New Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle

Honda FCX Clarity

Honda plans to unveil its latest hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the Honda FCEV Concept, at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this month. There are few details about the zero-emissions vehicle available, but many believe the car will be similar to the Honda FCX Clarity, Honda's first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. The company has said it won't launch the newest alternative fuel car until 2015 in the U.S. and Japan.

Though there's been a lot of hype about the potential of electric cars, such as the luxury electric Tesla, automakers seem to be flocking to hydrogen fuel cells as of late. Toyota is expected to reveal a hydrogen-powered sedan at the Tokyo Motor Show this month. Hyundai has been testing a fuel-cell version of the Tucson in Southern California. And General Motors' fleet of fuel-cell vehicles has already logged about 1 million miles collectively.

Why are so many automakers transitioning into hydrogen-powered cars? Hydrogen fuel vehicles are environmentally friendly, releasing no emissions. They can travel about 300 to 400 miles before they need to be filled up again—about three or four times farther than a typical  electric car—according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And filling up the vehicle takes significantly less time than charging an electric car. Most hydrogen vehicles can be fueled in as little as three minutes, while an electric car can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an entire day to be fully recharged.

Still, automakers have to overcome some serious hurtles if hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will become successful. The biggest concern is the lack of fueling stations that offer hydrogen instead of gasoline. There are nine stations in California and a few more scattered throughout the East Coast, but not enough for flocks of Americans to trade in their gas guzzlers.

California is attempting to up its number of hydrogen fueling stations. The state has committed $20 million per year, through the end of 2023, for the construction of hydrogen fueling stations.  By the time funding runs out, officials hope to have 100 stations across California. But there aren't plans for such expansion in the rest of the United States.

On top of few fueling options, consumers will have to pay pretty steep prices to drive alternative fuel vehicles. Honda's first hydrogen-powered vehicle, Clarity, is available through lease only, at $600 per month for three years.  And hydrogen fuel is two to three times more expensive per gallon than gasoline, reports CNN.

There are also some dangers associated with using hydrogen in vehicles, according to a report by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Hydrogen is highly flammable, much more so than other types of fuels. And the flames are a lot less noticeable than those caused by traditional fuels, such as gasoline.

The risk of electric shock could also be a barrier to hydrogen cars. Fuel cells require much higher voltages than the standard 14V system in vehicles today. Automakers have begun to move to a 42V system, but some fuel cell vehicle motors can run off voltages exceeding 350V. Since anything greater than 50V can stop a human heart, the danger of electric shock is a huge concern with these vehicles.

According the Elon Musk, creator of Tesla, these hydrogen fuel cars are simply a waste of time. He explains that hydrogen is a dangerous gas that is more useful in the first stage of rockets than in cars.

More Stories By Kristina Ross

I've been the webmaster and sustainability consultant for for over 5 years. I write on cleaner forms of energy generation and the job benefits this push can create. Often I look for healthier relationships between the environment and the people that live in it. I also promote the reduction of environmental impact through more responsible means of energy consumption.