Honda FCX Clarity (2008–)

Last updated 24 August 2016

The first serious hydrogen powers production car. Used hydrogen produced as a byproduct of chemical processes.
The time it will take for refueling infrastructure to appear.
Updated 26 November 2008

Honda has started leasing the FCX Clarity fuel cell car in Japan earlier today, delivering the first zero-emission car to the Ministry of the Environment. Initially, Honda will lease the FCX Clarity...

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Introduction

Could the Honda FCX Clarity be the future of motoring? With the pressure to reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles ever increasing, there's no doubt that alternatives to the standard internal combustion engine are here to stay.

But what makes the FCX Clarity unique is that it's powered by a fuel cell which converts hydrogen into electricity. And the only emissions are water vapour. Just two cars have been brought to Europe and we've been fortunate enough to drive one of them.

Of course there are now several choices when it comes to alternative energy vehicles. Hybrid models, which combine an engine with an electric motor, have been on the market for several years now and are increasing in popularity - the Toyota Prius being probably the best known.

So how does it work? The FCX Clarity is a very different vehicle. Although it is essentially an electric car, it doesn't require plugging in and charging, as the power is generated by the fuel cell. Instead of a petrol tank there's a 171-litre high-pressure hydrogen tank and this hydrogen is combined with atmospheric oxygen to generate electricity. The fuel cell is really a tiny electric power station, generating its own electricity rather than through a plug-in system.

As a result there are no CO2 emissions - instead the only by-product is water. A compact lithium ion battery, housed under the rear seat, stores electricity generated during braking and deceleration, which then works with the fuel cell to power the car. As a result it's three times more efficient than a petrol-engined car.

Of course the big question is where does the hydrogen come from. Hydrogen is in fact the most common element in the universe and the most widespread way of producing it is steam reforming from natural gas. There is an environmental cost to this method, but it can be produced from other sources such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power. Hydrogen is also a more effective and efficient way of storing energy compared to batteries.

Refuelling the FCX Clarity is like fuelling a normal car and takes just a few minutes. The main problem, as is the case with any new fuel, is having the fuel available at enough garage forecourts. There are currently only a handful of operational hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK - at University sites in Loughborough, Birmingham and Baglan in Wales, although there are more under construction.

 

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