Honda's vision of the future -- a car powered by hydrogen

Michael Taylor

  • Honda Motor Company demonstrated its next-generation FCX Concept fuel cell car at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif. on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006. The vehicle runs on compressed hydrogen gas and can reach speeds up to 100 mph.
 PAUL CHINN/The Chronicle
 Ran on: 11-15-2006
 Honda's FCX hydrogen-powered car runs around the Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey. Its fuel cell converts hydrogen into electricity, heat and water. The electricity powers the car. Photo: PAUL CHINN


Honda Motor Company demonstrated its next-generation FCX Concept fuel cell car at Laguna Seca Raceway

The future of driving, if Honda has anything to say about it, came to a Monterey County race track Tuesday in the form of a dark red sedan that is slated to be the first fuel cell car on the planet to come off a production line.

The Honda FCX looks like a slightly futuristic version of a blend of cars, especially those made by Honda Motor Co. But by one particular yardstick, the car is special -- it doesn't run on fossil fuel. Instead, a fuel cell car uses hydrogen.

"This is the first purpose-built fuel cell vehicle to be put on the road in the hands of retail customers," said Stephen Ellis, fuel cell marketing manager for American Honda Motor Co. "It's not a car that is remade from some other platform."

Fuel cell cars have been made by several of the world's biggest carmakers, but by and large they were cobbled together from an existing gas- or electric-powered vehicle. Honda itself earlier made a homely looking fuel cell car, one of which has been in use by a Los Angeles family for more than a year.

Honda says that within two years it plans to produce and lease to the public an untold number of cars based on the concept car the company put on display Tuesday. Tentative plans call for leasing the car for perhaps $600 or $700 a month. Automakers typically lease experimental cars to the public rather than sell them outright as a way of retaining control of them.

On Tuesday, Honda rented Laguna Seca Raceway to show off the only two FCX cars the company says exist in the world. Reporters were allowed to take the cars -- each is worth as much as $2 million, according to industry insiders -- around a portion of the race track, past signs encouraging "acceleration," "braking" and other exhortations.

The car performed like any moderately sporty sedan. It is quiet, it has a low center of gravity, and it's relatively fast.

What makes the car unlike any other sedan is its fuel cell stack, a sandwich of plates that generate electricity through an electro-chemical process using a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. The front wheels are driven by an electric motor. The only emission is water vapor.

The hydrogen can be refined from a number of sources, including coal, natural gas and methane.

Being a concept car, the FCX at the race track was far from the finished product. Every time a driver mentioned a possible problem, the reply was that it's a concept car and the problem will be fixed when it's in regular production.

A fuel cell car in regular production? Honda knows it faces enormous barriers as it tries to introduce a completely new way to propel a car.

The biggest problem is where to fuel it. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's long-touted "hydrogen highway" is behind schedule, said Honda's FCX product planner, Christine Ra.

Still, a few stations accommodate fuel cell cars, and more are planned, said Catherine Dun- woody, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a group of companies that promotes the technology.

"There are 23 in California, mostly in Southern California," Dunwoody said Tuesday, "and 14 more are on the way. Most fuel cell cars fuel at one or two stations, and we need to move to the point where any car can find a station."

UC Davis environmental science Professor Joan Ogden, who specializes in fuel cells, said a study she has seen says that in the next 10 years, there will be a "roll-out of hydrogen cars and stations" in California.

Others think it will take longer.

"Fuel cell cars have real promise to do double duty -- help the climate and end our oil addiction," said David Friedman, research director for vehicle programs at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. "But that future is 20 to 30 years away. All the car companies are working really hard to make fuel cell vehicles a reality, and they deserve praise. Yet there are real hurdles to overcome."

Friedman cited problems of making a fuel cell system start in minus-40 degree weather and making the systems as durable as possible.

"We have to get a fuel cell vehicle that is durable and cheap enough," Friedman said, "and make sure the hydrogen is clean enough. No one will cheer if, at the end of the day, we make all our hydrogen from coal and melt the planet."

As for the economics, Honda Vice President Ben Knight said a fuel cell car can get the equivalent of a gasoline-powered car's 65 miles per gallon. An FCX filled with 8.8 pounds of hydrogen can go about 270 miles, he said.

One unknown is how much a hydrogen retailer -- probably one of the big oil companies -- would charge for hydrogen. Honda also is developing a home refueling station that draws natural gas from a home's utility supply and processes it for hydrogen use.

Then there is the real-world question of what a fuel cell car is like when you have one, day in and day out. Jon Spallino knows.

In June 2005, American Honda began leasing a 2005 Honda FCX to Spallino, a 41-year-old Redondo Beach businessman with a wife and two daughters. The Spallinos became what apparently is the only American family to use a fuel cell car every day, for such things, Spallino says, as "going to the shopping center, to the soccer field and to ballet lessons."

Asked what stood out, Spallino said, "the lack of trouble. I expected technical problems. All that happened was one flat tire."

He said he fills up the car about once a week at Honda's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, and otherwise it behaves like a normal car. Except that he does get a lot of attention, given that "Honda Fuel Cell Powered FCX" is written in giant letters on the side of the car.

"I finally ended up carrying a stack of brochures explaining the car," Spallino said. "All of that was part of the fun."

Fuel cells: electric power from hydrogen fuel

Fuel cells create electricity through an electrochemical process that combines hydrogen and oxygen. Vehicles running on fuel cells would need to be supplied with gaseous hydrogen extracted from a hydrocarbon fuel, such as coal, natural gas, or methane. Honda is developing a home refueling station that draws gas from the home's utility supply and processes it for hydrogen use.

How fuel cells work

Hydrogen fuel is fed into the anode of the fuel cell. Helped by a catalyst, hydrogen atoms are split into electrons and protons.

Electrons are channeled through a circuit to produce electricity.

Protons pass through the proton exchange membrane.

Oxygen enters the cathode and combines with the electrons and protons to form water.

Water vapor and heat are released as byproducts of the reaction.


  Analyst View: Fuel Cell Vehicles – Not a Dream but a Plan Download as PDF The European Hydrogen Road Tour 2012 has had a clear message: ‘hydrogen vehicles are already here and ready for mass production from 2014/15onwards’. Seven vehicles – from Daimler, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota – participated in a number of events during the tour, with the most buzz generated around the Paris Motor Show. The tour culminates in Copenhagen today amid a flurry of announcements from the automakers about their fuel cell plans. The reaction of some parts of the media to these is perhaps best encapsulated by an article published in the MIT Technology Review on Monday. Titled ‘Hydrogen Cars: A Dream That Won't  Die’ it discusses the renewed interest of automakers in hydrogen fuel cell cars “as the auto industry wrestles with the limitations of battery-poweredelectric vehicles”. Automakers are rather less whimsical than that. Interest has certainly been revived – but it is the interest of the press and the public, not that of the automakers, that needed reviving. For the most part, automakers’ investment in fuel cell technology over the last few years has been relatively steadfast. To call this a ‘dream’ is to mischaracterise long-term strategic planning. It is true, however, that plans sometimes have to change. While battery electric vehicles have been effective in demonstrating the reality of the electric car, they are not yet living up to expectations. Talking to   Reuters  ahead  of the Paris Motor Show, Hyundai’s fuel cell group director Tae Won Lim said,   "Battery electric car makers entered the market too early without  resolving problems such as range anxiety and costs. It was a hasty approach”. Few can really dispute that. Nissan executive Andy Palmer told   reporters last week that sales of the all-electric Nissan Leaf continue to disappoint: “The   uptake isn’t as strong as we first hoped”. GM saw record sales of its Chevrolet Volt in August, shifting 2,800 – but it appears this is off the back of steep   discounts, cutting the cost of the car by almost 25%. Sales still fall well   short of expectations: GM hoped to sell 45,000 this year. Toyota, meanwhile, has dramatically scaled back its plans for battery vehicles. The eQ, Toyota’s all-electric version of the iQ initially slated for mass production, will now see a very limited production run of about 100. "The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society's needs, whether it may   be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge," Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota's Vice Chairman commented on the 24th of September. Enter the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV). In an interview five days later, Gerald Killmann of Toyota Europe said that the company is planning to begin series production of a fuel cell Toyota Prius in 2014, and from 2015 to market the car in Japan, the US and Europe. Of course challenges remain; Toyota is relying on policy support to ensure these early markets have sufficient hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, while the company itself needs to bring the cost of the car down substantially, cutting 30 to 40% off the current ‘price’ of just under €100,000 – but this is clearly considered  achievable. As for pure electric vehicles, Toyota, Killmann said, will revisit battery cars “when better batteries become available”. In fact, in the space  of the week leading up to the Paris Motor Show, Toyota, Hyundai and Honda all reconfirmed their long-stated intentions to commercially launch FCEV in the very near future. Toyota announcedan improved stack, to be used   in the sedan-type FCV scheduled for launch around 2015 (exactly how this fits in with plans for the fuel cell Prius must still be clarified – Toyota has also been seen road testing its fuel cell technology using its existing Lexus platform). At a press conference Honda’s President and CEO, Takanobu Ito, reiterated the company’s plans to release its next-generation Fuel Cell Vehicle “sequentially in Japan, the US and Europe starting in 2015”. He also said the company regards FCEV as “the ultimate   environmentally-responsible vehicle”. And Hyundai announced it will begin small series production of its fuel cell ix35 in December of this year, building up to 1,000 ix35 FCEV on the road by 2015 and mass production beyond that. Hyundai’s fuel cell programme was launched in 1998, targeting series production of fuel cell vehicles by the end of 2012 and consumer sales by 2015, and it has kept a remarkably steady eye on this target. Daimler has been no less committed to fuel cell technology, and is something of a veteran of taking it on the road: in the first half of 2011 the Mercedes  F-Cell World Drive  took three Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL fuel cell vehicles around the globe.It was a convincing demonstration of the readiness of the technology – and theneed for hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. Daimler has also been targeting a 2014/15 commercial release date and appears to be on-track. During the course of the 2012 European Hydrogen Road Tour, a Daimler   representative again confirmed in a panel discussion that the company plans to commercially launch its fuel cell vehicle around 2015, although this was   not accompanied by an official statement. Daimler has since early 2010 had a strategic partnership with Renault–Nissan, and rumours emerged in the German press last week that this collaboration may now be extended to fuel cell technology. If so, it wouldn’t be a first for Daimler: the company has been working closely with Ford on fuel cell development in the form of the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation Corp. (AFCC). Ford’s FCEV commercialisation plans are longer term, but Nissan has been more prominent of late, announcing a next-generation fuel cell stack last year and showing its TeRRA fuel cell concept car at the Paris Motor Show this year. Battery electric vehicles in their current incarnation are less than practical for most drivers on three counts: range, ‘refuelling’ time, and cost. Fuel cell technology will solve the first two of those problems. As for the third, costs of both batteries and fuel cells will come down and are  expected to converge with the costs of other drivetrain technologies around 2025. Why pursue electromobility at all? Increased efficiency of the internal combustion engine, biofuels and hybrids will take us a considerable way towards decarbonising transportation, but a completely new form of propulsion will be needed to take us all the way. Automakers invest in fuel cell technology to ensure they stay in the game in coming decades. (For an overview ofautomotive fuel cell technology development and the various automakers’ plans for commercialisation, have a look at our recent report ‘Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles: The Road Ahead’.)

Powering the future

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could change mobility forever

Around the world, efforts are being made to harness the power of hydrogen,
the most abundant element in the universe.
Recognizing hydrogen's vast potential as a clean energy source,
Toyota is actively developing and producing fuel cell vehicles (FCV).
We believe hydrogen can help us contribute to
the next 100 years of the automobile.

Development Concept


Need to build a hydrogen-based society

Zero CO2 emissions

Using hydrogen results in zero CO2 emissions.
The chemical reaction H2+½O2→H2O points the way to a brighter future.

Stable eco-friendly supply

  • Can be produced from a wide range of primary energy sources

    Because hydrogen can be produced from a wide range of primary energy sources, unlike fossil fuels, there is no need to worry about resources becoming depleted, meaning that a stable supply can be relied on.

  • Energy for local production and local use

    Through hydrolysis, electricity generated from renewable energy sources (wind power, solar power, etc.) can be stored as hydrogen for power supply. By additionally returning surplus electricity to the grid, power wastage can be prevented. Establishing a system of this kind can also reduce energy risk on islands and in other remote areas.

  • Canceling out uctuations in energy supply from renewable sources

    The amount of energy that can be generated by renewable sources fluctuates greatly under the infuence of natural conditions. By converting the electricity generated to hydrogen, it can be stored and easily transported to meet demand.

Fuel cell vehicles are leading innovation
in two key areas.

Depending on how we embrace fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen as an energy source,
the potential results could change the world and bring about innovations that far exceed even those of the Prius.

Toyota sees great potential in hydrogen
and fuel cell vehicles.

What is a fuel cell vehicle?

Through the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, fuel cell vehicles generate electricity to power a motor. Instead of gasoline they are fuelled by hydrogen, an environment-friendly energy source that can be produced from a variety of raw materials.
Toyota's efforts to make sustainable mobility a reality with hydrogen started in 1992, even before the release of the Prius. In 2002, Toyota began the world's first limited sales of a fuel cell vehicle, the “Toyota FCHV”, in Japan and the U.S. Toyota has also made use of its hybrid vehicle technology in the development of fuel cell vehicles.

Toyota Fuel Cell System

Hydrogen and oxygen from the air are pulled into the fuel cells in the FC Stack, and electricity is created through a chemical reaction. The result: a responsive—and emission-free—drive.

  • History of development
  • Uses of fuel cell technology

Fuel cell vehicles: not just eco-cars

In addition to excellent environmental credentials, fuel cell vehicles are fun to drive, and also offer convenience and performance.

Pioneering development, starting with the fuel cell manufacturing process.

MIRAI The Mirai, the world's first fuel cell vehicle
for the mass market

The Toyota Fuel Cell System (TFCS) moves the Mirai

The Mirai features the Toyota Fuel Cell System, which combines fuel cell technology with hybrid technology.
The system is more energy efficient than internal combustion engines, and offers excellent environmental performance without emitting CO2 or other harmful substances during driving. At the same time, the system gives vehicles convenience on a par with conventional gasoline engine vehicles, thanks to a cruising range*1 of roughly 650 km and a refueling time of about three minutes*2.
In addition, the Mirai can serve as a high capacity power supply during emergencies. It is capable of supplying roughly 60 kWh*3 of electricity, with a maximum DC power output of 9 kW*4. When a separately-sold power supply unit is connected, the Mirai converts the DC power from the CHAdeMO power socket located inside the trunk to AC power and can power a vehicle-to-home*5 system or a vehicle-to-load system. Consumer electronics can also be connected directly and used from the interior accessory socket (AC 100 V, 1,500 W).

*1 According to Toyota measurements based on the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism's JC08 test cycle; measured by Toyota when refueling at a hydrogen station supplying hydrogen at a pressure of 70 MPa under the SAEe J2601 standard conditions (ambient temperature: 20° C, hydrogen tank pressure when fueled: 10 MPa). Differing amounts of hydrogen will be supplied to the tank if refueling is carried out at hydrogen stations with differing specifications, and the cruising range will therefore also differ accordingly. It is estimated that a cruising range of approximately 700 km can be achieved when fueled under the conditions above at new hydrogen stations scheduled to begin operation from FY2016. Possible cruising range may vary considerably due to usage conditions (weather, traffic congestion, etc.) and driving methods (quick starts, air conditioning, etc.).
*2 As measured by Toyota when refueling at a hydrogen station supplying hydrogen at a pressure of 70 MPa under the SAEe J2601 Standard conditions (ambient temperature: 20°C, hydrogen tank pressure when fueled: 10 MPa). Time will vary depending on hydrogen fueling pressure and ambient temperature.
*3 After DC/AC conversion by power supply unit. Power supply capacity varies according to power supply unit conversion efficiency, amount of remaining hydrogen and power consumption.
*4 Power supply capability varies according to power supply unit specifications (amount of power supplied cannot exceed power supply unit specifications).
*5 Specific residential wiring is required.

A new driving sensation

Fuel cell vehicles offer excellent drivability. This is the result of the fusion of a painstaking design process. The Mirai offers a low center of gravity, aerodynamic performance, optimal weight layout, and a highly rigid body. These features, combined with the car's engineless, motor-driven performance, create a driving experience that is smooth, safe, quiet and fun.

Design based on experience and knowledge

The unique and impressive design of the Mirai is perfect for a fuel cell vehicle:
it reflects the revolutionary nature of the technology.

Toyota's in-house fuel cell technology development

Whereas many manufacturers procure high-pressure hydrogen tanks, etc., from outside sources, Toyota is developing its FC system (including the FC stack) in-house.
Our dedication to manufacturing always drives us to do as much as we can ourselves.

Providing free access to fuel cell-related patent licenses

Toyota has given free access to approximately 5,680 fuel cell-related patent licenses (as of January 6, 2015). To promote the widespread early adoption of fuel cell vehicles and build a hydrogen-based society, Toyota is committed to making further active contributions.

FCV video gallery

  • New fuel cell stack fitted on the MIRAI

    Here we present the mechanisms and chemical reactions involved in generating electricity.

    (3min 39ec)

  • Driving performance and quietness of the MIRAI

    Here we present the new sensation of motor-driven response and exceptional quietness, among other features.

    (2min 22sec)

The FCV, which is fueled by the clean energy provided by hydrogen. This is one of Toyota's solutions for one hundred years in the future.

Environmental Technology Headlines


Technologies Supporting Eco-Cars


Harsh competitor: An electric car company promoter spent tens of millions of dollars trying to nay-say fuel cells because he knew that his battery packs had failed, on every single metric, when put side-by-side with fuel cell electric systems. Take a look at the results of numerous studies comparing our technology to his: CLICK TO DOWNLOAD THE STUDIES CLICK TO DOWNLOAD A STUDY BY UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA STUDENTS