The fuel-cell future is one step closer

Honda teams up with GM to make your next car hydrogen-powered

If you thought Honda has been a bit too quiet about fuel cells lately, fear not – hydrogen fuel isn’t going away. Honda and General Motors have joined forces, in fact, to produce hydrogen fuel cells to be used across future models.

The $85million joint venture (currently around £68m) is the culmination of a three-year partnership between the two companies, as they work to bring a shareable and affordable hydrogen fuel cell to life.

A company called Fuel Cell System Manufacturing, LLC is setting up a Detroit base, and will be mass producing fuel cells by 2020, with 100 new jobs being made in the process.

Now, in case you’ve forgotten the purported benefits of hydrogen fuel cells, the basic premise is that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. So, it’s rather tricky to run out of. Rather than, say, those annoyingly finite fossil fuels. 

The second part is to do with the production of fuel. Petrol comes from a lot of seriously messy drilling, transporting and refining, none of which will get you invited to the Greenpeace Christmas party. 

Of course, processing hydrogen isn’t all that easy. And, like petrol, it is possible to get hydrogen from drilling and refining, a process which takes quite a bit of effort (and a fat stack of energy). However, there are cleaner, more Earth-friendly ways to produce hydrogen and to generate the necessary power. Like wind, water, biomass or geothermal sources.

And, perhaps crucially, once a hydrogen-powered car is built and on the road, it produces no pollution. We’re told that a fuel cell car emits water from the exhaust pipe and nothing else and, because of the simpler architecture of electric engines, there’s far less need for petrochemical consumables like oil and transmission fluid. 

The current Honda Clarity, which launched in Japan and America in December 2016, can go for 366 miles – more than the new, long-range Tesla 100D – before needing another hit of hydrogen. And there’s appeal to using it in the way we use cars today – fill up, drive, empty the tank and fill it up again to drive some more. No changing of mindset needed.

Honda was the first out of the blocks with the Clarity back in 2008 but, since then, manufacturers such as Toyota and Hyundai have brought fuel-cell-powered cars to market in the Mirai and ix35 FCEV. Ford, Mercedes and Nissan are already engaged in a similar project.

So, even though the focus has shifted somewhat towards regular battery-powered electric cars like the Tesla, Faraday and BMW i cars hydrogen power hasn’t gone away. It’s unlikely the future of fuel will end up in a Blu-Ray vs HD DVD kind of struggle with one clear victor; it’s much more likely that there’ll be simpler battery-powered cars for cities and fuel-cell motivation for high-power or long-distance applications.

And that got us thinking – would you be happy to live in a world of hydrogen, batteries and hybrids? Which do you think best solves the car world’s impending problems?