Fuel cell car hits the road

Fuel cell car hits the road

By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer

Even though the City of Los Angeles has taken delivery of its first certified fuel cell car, Art Garner, the director of Public Relations for Honda Motor Co. Ltd., told The Rock River Times that Honda will not yet be leasing fuel cell cars in cold weather states due to limitations to present fuel cell technology.

However, Garner added that fuel cell technology is growing by “leaps and bounds” each year. Therefore, he is confident that damage that is done to the fuel cell stacks in freezing weather will soon be overcome. The coming advancements in technology may place Rockford-area officials in a position to help lead the way to a future that retires the internal combustion engine and its associated societal and environmental problems.

Critics of the internal combustion engine and American’s love for vehicles, especially large ones, have said the United States has built a society around vehicles, rather than people. The result, say critics, is that the U.S. has increased its dependence on foreign sources for energy and accelerated the rate of global warming.

Use of fuel cells in cars, homes, businesses, computers, watches and many other devices represents another step toward a sustainable and independent energy future, say supporters of renewable energy.

The fuel cell works by combining the hydrogen fuel with oxygen from the air to produce water and electricity. The electricity produced through this chemical reaction is used to power the vehicle. The first fuel cell was built by Englishman William Grove and reported in 1839.

Although ethyl alcohol (ethanol), methyl alcohol (methanol), natural gas (methane) and gasoline may be used to produce hydrogen gas, the Honda cars will be using hydrogen generated from water. Using any carbon-based fuel such as alcohol, oil, gasoline, natural gas and the like, potentially adds more global-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Whereas, using water as a hydrogen source for fuel cells will not add carbon dioxide to the air, depending on what energy source is used to generate the electricity.

According to Garner, Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., uses electricity from the grid to split water molecules, which produces hydrogen gas. The hydrogen is then stored in a mobile tank that is used as a refueling station for the car.

Jim Bonnville, director of Fleet Services for the city of Los Angeles said the city took delivery of the first of five fuel cell cars on Dec. 2. The vehicle is the nation’s first fuel cell car to be certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.

The Honda FCX has a top speed of 93 miles per hour (150 kilometers per hour), acceleration similar to a Honda Civic, driving range between 100 to 200 miles per tankful, which holds 8.27 pounds (3.75 kilograms) of compressed hydrogen gas at 5,000 pounds per square inch (p.s.i.). The fuel tank has a volume of 34.3 gallons (130 liters). The vehicle seats four adults.

Bonnville said the city leased the vehicles for two years at a cost of $500 per month, which includes the hydrogen. Honda officials approached the city about using the vehicles, Bonnville said. He added that the vehicles will be used to transport executive level city officials. He said Los Angeles is committed to utilizing new technologies and leading the way in using and promoting zero-emission vehicles.

When asked if the city was approached by General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler or Ford, Bonnville said none of the traditionally U.S. based companies approached them about using their fuel cell technology. For insight into possible reasons why the city was not approached by the Big Three, read the accompanying article about the ill-fated “Supercar.

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