How Honda’s Hydrogen Business Strategy Revolves Around Its Next-gen Fuel Cell System - SUV VEHICLE

How Honda’s Hydrogen Business Strategy Revolves Around Its Next-gen Fuel Cell System

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Honda is going hydrogen. It’s not correct to say that the Japanese automaker is “pivoting to hydrogen” because it is also getting into battery-powered EVs. Nevertheless, hydrogen is about to take on a big share of Honda’s operations. The company isn’t preparing to put out a full lineup of hydrogen cars (though FCEVs do figure into its long-term plans), but is instead focusing on making a range of fuel cell systems that could be used with as much versatility as internal combustion engines (both in cars and everywhere else). Gasoline isn’t going away soon, but the transition to other fuels is beginning.


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In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from various manufacturer websites and other authoritative sources, including MotorTrend, Car and Driver, and Hagerty.


Honda’s Hydrogen Partnership With GM

  • Honda and General Motors have formed a hydrogen partnership called Fuel Cell Systems LLC.
  • The joint venture already has completed and opened a factory near Detroit that produces hydrogen fuel cell systems.
  • The fuel systems only put out 103 horsepower, but can be installed in parallel to generate more energy.
  • Honda and GM have also joint-developed a hydrogen variant of the CR-V.

While cars aren’t necessarily the center of Honda’s hydrogen plans, they are not excluded either. The company has already entered into a partnership with General Motors. So far, this has resulted in a joint-developed hydrogen CR-V. However, instead of putting out a fleet of hydrogen vehicles, the two companies are focusing on developing the fuel cells themselves.

Fuel Cell Systems Manufacturing LLC: Honda And GM’s Hydrogen Partnership

GM-Honda Hydrogen Fuel Cell manufacturing unit
Honda

Honda’s hydrogen partnership with General Motors, dubbed Fuel Cell Systems Manufacturing LLC, currently only produces a 77 kilowatt (103 horsepower) system. To manufacture it, the two companies have already opened an $85 million fuel cell factory just outside of Detroit. In all its hydrogen press releases, Honda has made sure to emphasize that its latest hydrogen system is only one-third the cost of the one that powered the recently discontinued Clarity Fuel Cell sedan.

While 103 horsepower may seem too low for many uses, the fuel cell system is modular. It can be stacked on itself the same way a half-dozen batteries get piled into a single power-thirsty children’s toy. Obviously, it’s not literally that simple to join multiple fuel cell systems, but it is nevertheless a straightforward operation. Because the fuel cells put out electricity instead of mechanical force, there is no need to synchronize any crankshafts. As a result, it’s easier to put multiple hydrogen fuel cells into parallel operation than to link multiple engines.

Honda And GM Have Joint-Developed A Hydrogen-Powered CR-V

Gray 2023 Honda CR-V Sport Hybrid driving
Honda

Honda and General Motors have also co-developed a hydrogen vehicle platform. It is the basis for the fuel-cell variant of the CR-V. The company has made the choice to keep everything about the SUV unchanged except for what propels it. This makes the hydrogen CR-V easier to sell. Dealership salespeople can reassure customers that it’s “just like a normal car.” Honda is producing it at its Marysville, Ohio plant (which is also the home of the Accord).

The relatively small-scale production plans suggest that Honda seems to be making the hydrogen CR-V in an attempt to speculatively stake out a piece of the FCEV market. The CR-V will be the first hydrogen vehicle manufactured in America. The company plans to make only 2,500 hydrogen CR-Vs by 2025. Of course, given that hydrogen is only available in “a few select areas,” one can hardly expect Honda to crank out hydrogen SUVs the way it produces freightloads of Civics every day.

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Honda Is Putting Hydrogen Everywhere That Currently Uses Engines

2024 Honda FCEV system in a vehicle
Honda

  • Honda is making hydrogen fuel cell systems as versatile as its current catalog of non-automotive engines.
  • Honda already uses hydrogen instead of diesel for some of its own on-site power backup generators.
  • The company is also investing in government and private initiatives to build hydrogen infrastructure in the U.S. and Japan.

Rather than focusing near-exclusively on FCEVs, Honda is planning to make hydrogen fuel cells as versatile as engines are today. But, more crucially, Honda is also working on developing the infrastructure required to refill the hydrogen tanks. The company is investing heavily in hydrogen infrastructure initiatives both in Japan and the United States.

Of course, it’s only natural that Honda wouldn’t develop its own hydrogen generation plants. (After all, no auto manufacturer produces its own gasoline.) Nevertheless, it is quite a statement of commitment that Honda would throw so much money into building a network of hydrogen generators, distributors, fueling stations, and everything else that goes with it.

“An Engine Company That Makes Cars To Put Them In”

Honda has sometimes been called an engine manufacturer that happens to also make cars. Honda engines can be found in nearly everything from pressure washers to aircraft. The company plans to take hydrogen in a similar direction and adapt it to every use currently served by a Honda engine. While hydrogen’s limitations may prevent it from becoming as ubiquitous as gasoline, the fuel shows a lot of promise in other places.

Honda Has Already Proven Its Hydrogen Power Generators On Its Own Facilities

Honda has big plans for hydrogen power generators. The company has already put its money where its hydrogen mouth is, installing hydrogen backup generators at its data center in Torrance, California. (At present, diesel is the fuel of choice for most backup generators.) Hydrogen has several advantages over diesel. For one thing, there is no need to wait for a massive engine to get up to speed. And, of course, while fuel-cell systems are not maintenance-free, engines far more servicing.

Of course, no hydrogen initiative is complete without some press release homage to sustainability. Honda’s adoption of hydrogen generators in its own facilities is part of its plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Honda Is Putting Hydrogen Fuel Cells Everywhere – Including Outer Space

Aside from generators, Honda is betting on hydrogen fuel cells to eventually take over every application where one finds a Honda engine today. This includes everything from domestic lawnmowers to construction equipment. Stunningly, Honda is even planning to take fuel cells to outer space. The company has been working with JAXA (Japan’s space-faring agency) to develop a hydrogen-based “circulative renewable energy system” for use in space stations and lunar rovers. These would be designed to reuse hydrogen as much as possible since it’s a lot more resource-intensive to get a fresh tank of gas into space.

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The Advantages Of Hydrogen

2024 Honda FCEV system in a vehicle
Honda

Of course, many people may wonder why anyone is pushing hydrogen when batteries are a “solved technology.” While hydrogen may have inherent limitations, it is also naturally suited to many uses. A fuel cell system and a full tank of hydrogen weigh less than a battery with the same energy capacity. Hydrogen also makes it easier for electrical equipment to work when divorced from the local power grid. In places where electrical grids are either unstable or nonexistent, it’s easier to ship in tanks of hydrogen than to construct a stable power infrastructure to charge batteries. (Because they can be refueled when the local power grid fails, hydrogen cars may become unexpectedly popular in Texas.)

Hydrogen Fuel Cells May Not Be Perfect For Cars, But They Are Useful In Many Other Places

Several of hydrogen’s disadvantages (of which there are many) evaporate when it is used in stationary and site-specific applications. Both Honda and Toyota have been promoting its use in construction equipment, mobile power generators, and other things that stay in the same place when in use. Many construction sites use diesel to power both the temporary generators and the tractors. Hydrogen may serve the same purpose in the future.

Instead Of Smoke, Hydrogen Fuel Cells Only Emit Water

Red Hydrogen Honda
Honda 

Of course, one would be remiss not to mention that hydrogen fuel cells only emit water. There is no soot, no carbon emissions, or anything else. While generating hydrogen gas is not a miraculously clean process at present, the reduced local emissions could make the air in cities (particularly around construction sites) a lot easier to breathe.

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The Coming End Of The Gasoline Era

Honda Stationary Fuel Cell outdoors
Honda

Despite the desperate pleas and furious comment-section screeds of everyone who has ever hugged a carburetor, the era of gasoline is slowly (very slowly) drawing to a close. One of naysayers’ favorite refutation points is that nothing can possibly be as versatile as gasoline. And, while that may be true, that does not mean that gasoline will forever reign supreme.

Instead, it means that it will be replaced by a diverse array of options instead of a single next-generation fuel. While some people will insist that gasoline will never truly go away, it should be pointed out that horses haven’t been entirely superseded either. Nevertheless, the transition is undeniable and inevitable.

If Government Mandates Don’t End Gasoline, The Market Will

If nothing else, the rising price of gasoline and other petroleum fuels will make them financially untenable for many people. The days of oil gushers popping up in easily accessible fields are over. As the world’s remaining oil gets ever harder to extract, the price of gasoline will reflect that.

Honda’s Fuel Cells Will Be Everywhere That Its Engines Are Today

Rear 3/4 view of a 2024 Honda CR-V Hybrid (RS e:HEV)
Isaac Atienza

While Honda’s most visible products are its cars (with motorcycles as a close second), the company is one of the most respected names in the engine industry. Of course, most automotive manufacturers sell engines for other purposes. But Honda puts more emphasis on its all-purpose engines than nearly everyone else in the industry. The company may be preparing to let go of gasoline in the distant-yet-foreseeable future. However, it is obvious that Honda still plans to power everything from lawnmowers to airplanes long after the engine is as historically quaint as the horse-cart.

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