Operating Officer Toshihiro Mibe introducing Honda's "generate, use, and get connected" technologies at Smart Mobility City 2015
The Honda booth at Smart Mobility City 2015
Honda's vision to "generate, use, and get connected" with zero-carbon hydrogen energy
In its exhibit in Smart Mobility City 2015, a special showcase of cutting-edge smart city and consumer technologies at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show held last fall, Honda presented a family of technologies under the theme "generate, use, and get connected" with energy. These technologies—the planned production models of the Smart Hydrogen Station (SHS), Clarity Fuel Cell (FCV), and Power Exporter 9000—enable users to generate hydrogen, use the hydrogen as fuel, and get connected with energy anywhere they go by feeding hydrogen-generated electricity from an FCV to other appliances and devices, respectively.
Speaking at a press conference packed with journalists, Honda Operating Officer Toshihiro Mibe enthused, "Honda presents to you a world where we can generate, use, and get connected with zero-carbon energy: Hydrogen generated from renewable energy without carbon dioxide emissions, an FCV that emits only water while driving, and the ability to supply high-quality electricity from the FCV to other parts of the community."
The Smart Hydrogen Station (SHS) is the starting point in this zero-carbon energy chain. Featuring Power Creator, a high-differential-pressure electrolysis system that pressurizes hydrogen as it is produced through water electrolysis, the SHS delivers high-efficiency production capacity in a compact size—about the dimensions of a 10-foot shipping container. This unique Honda technology combines in a single package the key components for producing, storing, and dispensing hydrogen, thereby providing easy access to zero-carbon hydrogen produced from solar, wind, biomass, or other renewable energy source.
By contrast, the hydrogen provided by commercial hydrogen stations, given their high volume requirements, is typically produced from a conventional energy source: fossil fuel, such as natural gas or petroleum. Moreover, this hydrogen is produced at a factory and transported by truck to the station—emitting carbon dioxide along the way.
Hydrogen manufactured in this way cannot be said to be truly zero-carbon, even if used to fuel an FCV, which is considered the ultimate clean vehicle technology given its long cruising distance, ability to refuel quickly, and level of utility and convenience on par with gasoline engine vehicles.
Rather than shipping hydrogen from another location, why not generate hydrogen locally using renewable energy? That is precisely what the SHS does: the SHS makes it possible to produce energy where it’s used, turning the FCV into the ultimate clean car in the true sense of the word.
This is the point where most people are itching to ask:"Why would Honda, an automaker, develop a hydrogen station?"
Koji Nakazawa, Chief Engineer at Honda R&D’s Automobile R&D Center and large project leader (LPL) of the SHS, responds with a sparkle in his eyes.
"Great question! The answer goes back to a "fully closed-cycle vehicle." It is the perfect clean vehicle we at Honda envision, and was the inspiration behind FCV development at Honda. This vehicle would have solar panels for on-board production of hydrogen, which when combined with atmospheric oxygen would generate electricity and drive a motor. Since water is its only fuel, it would truly be a dream come true. It's a wild idea, very Honda. But if such a vehicle existed, the world would certainly be happy to have it."
By estimating the amount of energy needed to run this dream vehicle, Honda engineers realized, however, that it would never fit enough solar panels to produce an adequate amount of hydrogen. So they decided to split the process into two parts: the process of using hydrogen—the FCV—and the process of making it—in other words, a hydrogen station powered by renewable energy.
Less than a dozen people were tasked with developing the hydrogen station part. As Nakazawa recalls:
"It was a different field of development than mobility products, less mainstream, so the team was small. I found the directness of communication and fast work pace very engaging, like being at a startup company. But I was especially struck by everyone’s determination to make hydrogen truly clean, truly beneficial for society, by the time FCVs rolled onto the streets. Zero-carbon hydrogen was the only hydrogen that made sense to Honda as a maker of FCVs."
After commencing basic research in 1998, in 2002 Nakazawa and his colleagues assembled a solar-powered zero-carbon hydrogen station at Honda's R&D center in the U.S. from commercially available parts. The idea was first to build the station, and then determine which system components needed to be reengineered or redesigned.
One change identified was elimination of the compressor, the part that pressurized the resulting hydrogen.
At the time, FCVs used hydrogen pressurized to 35 megapascals (MPa; 350 atmospheres) as fuel. However, using a compressor, which consumes electricity, reduces the efficiency of hydrogen production, while also posing major drawbacks such as noise and bulk.
"No hydrogen station with a compressor would ever succeed as product. The answer was clear: let's devise a technology for pressurizing hydrogen without a compressor," says Nakazawa.
Thus began the development of Power Creator, a high-differential-pressure electrolysis system that performs water electrolysis and hydrogen pressurization at the same time.
Koji Nakazawa, Chief Engineer, Automobile R&D Center, Honda R&D Co., Ltd.
Power Creator pressurizes hydrogen to 35 MPa without a compressor
Power Creator, a Honda-proprietary technology, consists of a high-differential-pressure electrolyzer and a system for operating it
Honda's first hydrogen station, powered by photovoltaics and built from commercially available parts.
(Location: California, U.S.)
Honda-developed electrolysis stack.
Development of compressor-eliminating technology commenced.
(Location: California, U.S.)
First station to feature compressor-less Power Creator high-differential-pressure electrolysis system.
(Location: California, U.S.)
First hydrogen station in Japan to use photovoltaics. Like 2010 model, employed Power Creator.
(Location: Saitama Prefectural government building)
Smart Hydrogen Station (SHS), the world's first station to combine key parts for performing all steps from production through storage and dispensing.
(Locations: Saitama Eastern Area Environmental Center, Kitakyushu Eco-Town Center)
Smart Hydrogen Station (SHS) to be commercially available.
(Locations as of April 27, 2016: Tokushima Prefecture government building, Miyagi Prefectural Institute of Public Health and Environment, Saitama Prefecture government building, Honda Aoyama Head Office building, Honda Wako building)
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