With the engine's application now set on cogeneration, the development project shifted from basic research to commercialization. "The objective of commercialization is to determine how much we can lower costs while keeping the same performance. Cogeneration units need to be durable since they run for extremely long periods of time, so we had to see how far we could push cost reduction without sacrificing durability, since these two qualities are somewhat contradictory. We kept searching for the right combination of part materials and shapes from the countless possibilities that were available," said Kawano. Adopting the linkage engine also transformed the configuration of the cogeneration unit itself.
"High efficiency or fuel economy means that less fuel is used, meaning the engine can take in and expel less air to burn the fuel. This allowed us to optimize the size of parts like the exhaust silencer and muffler and make the entire unit more compact," said Togawa. "We achieved a 33% volume reduction over the existing model. A smaller unit is more tightly fit together and has less empty space, so it is quieter too. We also reduced the number of parts and the unit's weight—everything turned out really well."
Adopting a linkage assembly increased the number of parts, but by controlling costs across the board, the development team also managed to keep the cost of the unit the same as the existing model.
In May 2011, the MCHP1.0K2—a third-generation home cogeneration unit equipped with the new linkage engine, dubbed EXlink—was born. Adopting EXlink in the new model increased electric generation efficiency from 22.5% to 26.3% and also increased combined power and heat efficiency from 85% to 92%.
The development of EXlink and the gas-engine cogeneration unit is a story replete with all the moments that make Honda special—from a sketch inspired by a radial engine in a foreign museum, to the vitality of Honda associates who aspired to making that spark of insight a reality, to a cogeneration unit that exploits all the strengths of the revolutionary linkage engine they created.
The gas-engine cogeneration unit boasted unparalleled performance that left no room for imitation—but that didn't keep Honda from blazing forward. As mentioned earlier, in November 2012—a year and a half after the introduction of EXlink—developers came out with a new model that can be started manually during power outages: ECOWILL PLUS.
"The value of home cogeneration changed dramatically with the addition of autonomous operation," said Takeishi. "Before then, cogeneration units were seen as an environmentally friendly way to save on energy costs. Autonomous operation gave the unit the added value of safety and security when the power goes out."
There is a reason why Honda is so proactive about developing cogeneration energy solutions. Honda sees ultra-efficient on-site generation and consumption of home energy as a vital part of its environmental vision to "realize the joy and freedom of mobility and a sustainable society where people can enjoy life." And Honda's power product business positions gas-powered cogeneration alongside photovoltaics as a major strategy toward realizing ultra-efficient home energy. Based on these beliefs, Honda will continue to pursue advancements in gas-powered cogeneration for home use.
Togawa commented, "As we continue research and development, we want to add more products that provide new value, just like we did with the autonomous operation function. This is because continually delivering products that satisfy our customers is one way to achieve Honda's version of 'a sustainable society where people can enjoy life.'"
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