Japanese automaker Honda has announced its plans to launch a new fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in Japan and North America starting in 2024. Honda’s FCEV will be equipped with a next-generation fuel cell system co-developed with US automaker General Motors.
Honda is looking to make a passenger vehicle that can stand alongside Toyota’s Mirai and Hyundai’s Nexo, which are both commercially available hydrogen-fueled cars. Honda has been researching hydrogen technologies and fuel cell vehicles for more than three decades and has built three models of FCEVs to date, but all have had limited production runs serving either research and development purposes or leased in select markets.
The new FCEV will have short refuelling times of around 3 to 5 minutes, compared to the hours needed to fully charge battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). FCEVs also have longer driving ranges than BEVs, thanks to the high energy storage capacity of hydrogen. The energy to propel the vehicle comes from hydrogen electrons travelling along a dedicated circuit, with the only emission being water, making FCEVs environmentally friendly. Fuel cells are beneficial from a sustainability standpoint, too, as they utilize one-fiftieth of the lithium and cobalt that go into manufacturing EV batteries.
However, FCEVs have their downsides, too. For one, they are less energy efficient than BEVs. A 2001 study found that the powertrain of FCEVs had a maximum efficiency of 34%, barely double the 14% of gasoline engines and far behind the 61% of BEVs. Another drawback is the need for large, pressurized fuel tanks to store hydrogen, which makes fuel cells less suited to smaller passenger vehicles.
Experts assess that fuel cells are more practical for large, long-haul vehicles, whereas BEVs are better for city commutes and driving around town. FCEVs are still overshadowed by BEVs, which have surged in popularity worldwide. The pace of sales of BEVs in Japan has been anaemic, increasing by a little over one point to 1.7% while BEV sales as a portion of the car market rose three points to 12.1% in Europe, climbed by over two and a half points to 5.9% in North America, and nearly doubled to 20% in China.