Honda says the future of its hydrogen-powered vehicles may lie with solar-powered home refueling stations.
The Japanese manufacturer hopes its latest idea will make hydrogen the fuel of choice for zero-emission cars, believing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles offer the best long-term alternative to fossil fuels.
While many manufacturers, such as GM and Toyota, continue to invest heavily in battery technology, Honda is widely seen as the hydrogen leader, strongly tempted by the idea of a car that uses no oil and emits only water vapour.
The biggest barrier in hydrogen-powered cars so far is the lack of refueling infrastructure, which has lead Honda to decide the best alternative is public refueling networks combined with a modest home option.
Honda's home option will comprise a solar-powered hydrogen refueling station using solar panels.
"Customers can choose how they interact with both of them based on their annual miles and their habits," said Mr Stephen Ellis, fuel cell manager at Honda North America."The key thing to remember is that with five-minute refueling you are good for another 240 miles (387km)."
That number come from public "fast-fill" stations, of which only a handful currently exist in Southern California where Honda currently leases 15 of its FCX Clarity models (as pictured above).
It is estimated that the home fueling station would provide enough hydrogen for a trip of 50 kilometres during an eight hour 'charge' - or roughly that of the average daily commute.
At Honda's Los Angeles Research and Development Centre, the FCX Clarity is refueled using a single-unit station connected to a series of solar panels that replaces a two-unit system, cutting costs and improving efficiency by as much as 25 per cent.
"This is wonderful progress, the biggest progress," said Mr Ikuya Yamashita, the chief engineer of the station.
That station uses a 6kW solar array, composed of 48 panels and thin film solar cells developed by a Honda subsidiary. The station breaks down water into hydrogen in what Honda calls a "virtually carbon-free energy cycle."
The FCX Clarity's hydrogen stack (or electricity generator) is around the size of a brief case and is installed between the front seats for maximum impact protection.
It is anticipated that the Honda FCX Clarity will be commercially viable by 2018, while the solar hydrogen refueling system could move beyond the research stage and into the market as early as 2015.
"A lot of this work is not necessarily for today's economic situation," said Mr Ellis."This is for tomorrow, when most people feel energy prices will be higher."