By on January 30, 2017

Honda Clarity

A quick look at the automotive landscape of 2017 tells us that electricity, long relegated to golf courses and RC cars, is the chosen successor to gasoline and diesel propulsion. However, automakers are hedging their bets on the best way to create those electrons.

Despite a critically meager refueling infrastructure, hydrogen lives on as a potential source for that energy, and select automakers continue a quest to equip our future vehicles with containers of lighter-than-air gas. To this end, General Motors and Honda partnered up back in 2013.

Now, we know the next step in the two automotive rivals’ plan.

Announced today, GM and Honda will form a manufacturing joint venture based out of GM’s Brownstown, Michigan battery pack facility. Carrying the name Fuel Cell System Manufacturing, LLC, the venture kicked off following two investments totaling $85 million. The purpose of the venture is simple: produce fuel cells, starting in 2020, to power future models.

Both automakers have a good grasp on the technology, with each holding numerous patents. GM created its first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in 1966, though that space program creation was designed to test the technology for use on other heavenly bodies. Honda currently sells the Clarity — one of the very few hydrogen-powered vehicles on the market.

The two companies signed a collaboration agreement in 2013, combining the work of both development teams towards a goal of creating next-generation fuel cells and hydrogen storage systems. If the future does run on electricity created from hydrogen, GM and Honda want to be leaders.

Apparently, engineers didn’t just spend the past three years doodling. There’s something to show for their efforts.

“With the next-generation fuel cell system, GM and Honda are making a dramatic step toward lower cost, higher-volume fuel cell systems,” said Charlie Freese, GM executive director of Global Fuel Cell Business.

“Precious metals have been reduced dramatically and a fully cross-functional team is developing advanced manufacturing processes simultaneously with advances in the design. The result is a lower-cost system that is a fraction of the size and mass.”

Unlike vehicle design, fuel cell development follows the “smaller, lighter, cheaper” mantra. Unfortunately, these advances benefit absolutely no one if there’s nowhere to fuel up a vehicle. That’s where the advocacy side of the partnership comes in.

“The two companies also continue to work with governments and other stakeholders to further advance the refueling infrastructure that is critical for the long-term viability and consumer acceptance of fuel cell vehicles,” Honda said in a statement.

[Image: Honda]

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15 Comments on “Not Giving up on Hydrogen, GM and Honda Announce Joint Venture in Michigan...”

  • avatar

    Flying Cars by 1960!

  • avatar

    I’m still baffled as to what the use-case is. It has all the disadvantages of electric cars with none of the advantages. The only “plus” I can think of is that fueling up a Hydrogen-powered car (at a mythical station that doesn’t exist) is faster, and does not depend on a gigantic power feed to do it in any reasonable length of time. The range, cost, feasibility, environmental friendliness, etc. are all inferior to battery-powered cars.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you’ve mixed it up a bit as the electric cars’ downsides are weight and recharge time per mile range. The H2 side specifically addresses the range/recharge time without substantially improving weight. The traditional vehicles’ downsides are cost/complexity. While battery electric cars improve complexity they are still costly. H2 vehicles are more costly than electric cars while as complex as gasoline cars (if not more so).

      I do not however agree that range is necessarily inferior to battery-powered cars. As long as companies operate under the delusion that hydrogen storage and refueling are the way to achieve FCVs then yes, you have a point. Development of on-board reformers to extract hydrogen from other chemicals such as CNG or LPG or methanol improves storage/refueling flexibility at the expense of a bit more cost/complexity and vehicle service.

      A fuel-cell vehicle is a battery-electric car. It’s battery is just a large, heavy, expensive and complex fuel cell with involved temperature controls and moving parts.

      • 0 avatar

        “Development of on-board reformers to extract hydrogen from other chemicals such as CNG or LPG or methanol improves storage/refueling flexibility at the expense of a bit more cost/complexity and vehicle service.”

        If you are going to extract hydrogen from hydrocarbons, what, exactly, is the whole point? Why not just run the car off the hydrocarbons to begin with? And the bulk of a second fuel tank would not be trivial, making the vehicle even less practical than it already was.

        • 0 avatar

          Where did you think the hydrogen came from? Water? If it’s made via hydrolysis it took more electricity to make than you could get back via a PEM fuel cell so the electricity came from at least 50% hydrocarbon source anyway. The point is you have a BEV with a quickly rechargeable battery that leverages existing infrastructure. Its still more efficient and cleaner than burning the fuel directly. I’m not sure what you mean by “second” fuel tank; you run the reformer to produce hydrogen as needed so you don’t have to store an unstorable gas. The bulk and complexity of a fuel tank is trivial compared to a 300-mile lithim ion battery and quick chargers.

    • 0 avatar

      Assumming 100% penetration of BEVs, each taking 15-20 minutes to charge, each charging station needs to have a metric boatload of plugs, as they will be occupied much longer than gas pumps. Each of those plugs will be drawing amperage previously unheard of outside of metal smelters. And they need to be online 24/7. Any grid interruption will cause all a substantial share of all transport in the affected area to come to a glaring halt, with almost empty BEVs queued up to charge. If the grid disruption covers a large area, it can get ugly real fast.

      In highly developed, stable, countries, this “may” be a manageable risk, but elsewhere, it’s not exactly ideal to pit it mildly. Compared to that, the distributed storage of gas, and conceivably H2, lends much more resilience to the system as a whole.

      There’s also the theoretical notion that a one way battery, like a fuel cell, given sufficient engineering sophistication, ought to be able to outperform a battery dependent working “both ways” (charge and deplete). As of current, this is certainly not so, but even BEVs are currently so far away from being realistic for 300 mile range for a car in every household on our 8 million population globe, as to require even those to improve an order of magnitude before they become some sort of universal solution.

      Plug in Hybrids, moving slowly towards an increased share of driving time in electric mode, is the most obvious solution to BEVs shortcomings. But with dwindling cohorts of bright young engineers, and young people in general, across virtually all major car producing countries, those few who are available for hire as boomers retire, get to decide what they want to work on, or they go elsewhere. And “half measures” like incremental hybridization, just isn’t half as sexy as “zero emissions” anything. So, to get hold of the best and brightest, automakers have to lure them with “space programs”, “Manhattan projects” and “saving the world.” Impractical or not as it may seem.

      • 0 avatar

        Most BEVs charge up at night, when electricity usage is low. No need for absurd doomsday scenarios or other forms of FUD.

        • 0 avatar


          It is a myth that most BEVs charge at night. Go into any parking garage in Norway with recharging spots and you will see lots of recharging EVs during the daytime as commuters top-up batteries for the ride home. You also have apartment dwellers that have no night-time “at-home” recharging facilities, who are forced to recharge during the day while at work or shopping. And the larger the EV fleet the more likely there will be people that need daytime recharging for a variety of reasons.

          • 0 avatar

            Good points, Stingray,
            But the US is different from Norway – very different demographics and housing constructs. Most US buyers of BEVs are suburban, and tend to have garages with electrical outlets. They may top up at work or Whole Foods, but most of their electricity is at home.

            As BEVs are more widely adopted, utilities will offer savings to consumers to charge at night, especially if they have wind power that would otherwise be wasted.

          • 0 avatar

            Those BEVs you see charging in garages may not be charging. They’re probably sitting there charged, but still plugged in. They’re also sucking up free juice from the employer that they probably don’t need, but hey, it’s free and they aren’t stupid. Sometimes, I’ll plug in at the office because I want to pre-heat the car while plugged in, not because I actually need the power to make it home. So, you might want to do a bit of research before declaring something a myth.

        • 0 avatar

          That’s because BEV penetration is currently limited to the tiny fraction of car owners whose situation is best suited for BEV usage. If the goal is to full stop replace petro ICEs, that will no longer be the case.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “The two companies also continue to work with governments and other stakeholders to further advance the refueling infrastructure that is critical for the long-term viability and consumer acceptance of fuel cell vehicles”

    And that’s one reason – among many – why it will fail. Governments aren’t interested in funding the million-dollar price tag of these refueling stations. Toyota and Hyundai are making the same mistake, hoping states will pick up the tab so their Mirai and Tucson FCVs can succeed, and it’s not happening.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Didn’t you hear? Trump solved climate change. He removed all references from the White House web page. No longer any need to worry about alternative energy.

  • avatar

    Hydrogen is dead as long as oil remains around $50 per barrel, and with Trump building pipelines and encouraging energy production, oil will remain at current levels for potentially decades to come.

  • avatar

    Dirty GM tactic to ruin Honda by spending on big-oil driven fuel cell project, and then pick up the pieces. And Honda was already spending itself lightheaded on F1, so there is LESS THAN NO MONEY left for actual Honda consumer product in the near term. Bye Honda.

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