Honda has unveiled the FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle at the Los Angeles International Auto Show and announced plans to begin limited retail marketing of the vehicle in summer 2008.
The FCX Clarity is a next-generation, zero-emission, hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle based on an entirely new Honda V Flow fuel cell platform. It features improvements to driving range, power, weight and efficiency – and with a low-slung, dynamic appearance previously unachievable in a fuel cell vehicle.
Honda plans to lease the FCX Clarity to a limited number of retail consumers in Southern California, U.S., with the first delivery taking place in summer 2008. Full details of the lease programme will be set closer to launch, but current plans are for a three-year lease term with a price of $600 per month (approx £290), including maintenance and collision insurance.
The FCX Clarity’s only emission is water. CO2 emissions related to the production of hydrogen vary by source; however, well-to-wheel CO2 emissions using hydrogen reformed from natural gas – the most widely used method of production today – are less than half that of a conventional petrol vehicle. With the production of hydrogen from water by electrolysis, CO2 emissions can be further reduced and ultimately approach zero if the electricity is generated from sustainable sources, such as solar, wind, hydro and wave power.
The FCX Clarity utilises Honda’s V Flow stack in combination with a new compact and efficient lithium ion battery pack and a single hydrogen storage tank to power the vehicle’s electric drive motor. The fuel cell stack operates as the vehicle’s main power source. Hydrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen in the fuel cell stack, where energy from the reaction is converted into electric power used to propel the vehicle. Additional energy is also generated through the capture of kinetic energy from vehicle braking and deceleration (known as regenerative braking), which is stored along with surplus energy from the fuel cell in the lithium ion battery pack, and is used to supplement power from the fuel cell, when needed. The vehicle’s only emission is water.
The V Flow FC Stack features an entirely new cell structure that achieves a higher output of 100kW, smaller size and lower weight, with a 50 per cent improvement in output density by volume, and a 67 per cent increase in output density by mass, compared to the previous Honda FC stack. The technology allows the vehicle to reach 100mph.
The new stack introduces a cell structure in which hydrogen and air flow vertically, and gravity is used to facilitate more efficient drainage of the water by-product from the electrical generation layer. The result is greater stability in power generation. The new structure also allows flow channel depth to be reduced by 17 per cent – a major contributing factor in creating thinner cells and a more compact stack.
The V Flow FC Stack incorporates wave flow-channels for the hydrogen and air, with horizontal coolant flow channels weaving between them. The wave flow channels provide greater flow length per channel than straight channels, while the resulting turbulent flow within the channel promotes improved hydrogen and air distribution. As a result, the hydrogen and air are spread over the entire electrode layer, making more efficient use of the compact electrical generation layer and achieving approximately 10 per cent higher generating performance than with straight flow channels. The horizontal coolant flow also ensures more even cooling over the entire electrical generation layer, allowing for a reduction in the number of cooling layers to half that of previous stacks. While the previous stack had one cooling layer for each cell, the new stack needs only one cooling layer per two cells. This results in a 20 per cent reduction in stack length and a 30 per cent weight reduction, which is a major breakthrough in compact, lightweight stack design.
Improved water drainage due to the V Flow cell structure facilitates better output immediately after startup. The reduced coolant volume and single-box design made possible by the wave flow-channel separators result in heat mass 40 per cent lower than previous stacks. As a result, startup is now possible at temperatures as low as -30° C.
The FCX Clarity’s revolutionary new V Flow platform packages the ultra-compact, lightweight and powerful Honda V Flow fuel cell stack – 65 per cent smaller than the previous Honda fuel cell stack unit – in the vehicle’s centre tunnel, between the two front seats. The compact size of the new V Flow FC Stack allows for a more spacious interior and more efficient packaging of other powertrain components, which would otherwise be unattainable in a sleek, low-slung car.
The FCX Clarity boasts numerous other significant advances in the performance and packaging of Honda fuel cell technology, compared to the current-generation FCX. These include:
• a 20 per cent increase in fuel economy (about 2-3 times the fuel economy of a petrol-powered car, and 1.5 times that of a petrol-electric hybrid vehicle, of comparable size and performance)
• a 30 per cent increase in vehicle range – to 270 miles (approximately 430 km)
• a 120 per cent improvement in power-to-weight ratio, in part due to around a 400-pound (approximately 180kg) reduction in the fuel cell powertrain weight, despite a substantial increase in overall vehicle size
• a 45 per cent reduction in the size of the fuel cell powertrain – nearly equivalent, in terms of volume, to a modern petrol-electric hybrid powertrain
• an advanced new lithium-ion battery pack that is 40 per cent lighter and 50 per cent smaller than the current-generation FCX’s ultracapacitor
• a single 5,000-psi hydrogen storage tank with 10 per cent additional hydrogen capacity than the previous model.
More than just a fuel cell vehicle – the FCX Clarity portrays Honda’s vision of the future of car design and performance, freed from the constraints of conventional powertrain technologies. The FCX Clarity’s four-door platform features a short-nose body and spacious cabin with comfortable accommodation for four people and their luggage. Major powertrain components – including the electric motor, fuel cell stack, battery pack and hydrogen tank – have been made more compact and are distributed throughout the vehicle to further optimise space, comfort and total vehicle performance.
In keeping with its theme as an environmentally-advanced car, the FCX Clarity features seat upholstery and door linings made from Honda Bio-Fabric – a newly-developed, plant-based material that offers CO2 reductions as an alternative to traditional interior materials, along with outstanding durability and resistance to wear, stretching, and damage from sunlight.
Designed to appeal to forward-thinking customers seeking the ultimate in zero-emissions, alternative-fuel vehicle performance, the FCX Clarity is also equipped with a full complement of advanced safety, comfort and convenience features. These features consist of a state-of-the-art navigation system with hydrogen station locations, a rear view camera, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Collision Mitigation Brake System (CMBS), a premium sound system, climate controlled seats and Bluetooth™ connectivity.
Other improvements, such as shift-by-wire, electric power steering (EPS), and a newly designed instrument panel with easy-to-read display of hydrogen fuel consumption, further improve its customer appeal and ease of operation.