Listen to any news story about the current financial troubles of the General Motors auto company, and you’re likely to hear about the Chevrolet Volt, what they call an electric car (even though it has a gasoline engine to charge it’s batteries) that they say will be the future of the automobile. Of course, the Volt is still more than a year away from actually hitting showroom floors (expected date of November 2010), and it remains to be seen whether the vehicle will be remotely cost efficient. Forget the Volt, because the Honda FCX Clarity has been up and running since 2005, and the only thing it emits is water vapor.
Seriously, only water vapor comes out of the Clarity. To be more precise, one gallon of pure water over the course of every 30 miles or so. And yes, the Clarity has been available for lease in select areas of California since 2005. The reason it is only in select areas is because the Clarity is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, and there aren’t too many hydrogen fueling stations around the country at the moment. Here’s how it works: the FCX Clarity has an electric drivetrain which makes the car move. The electricity for that drivetrain comes from the hydrogen fuel cell. The fuel cell is, at a basic level, a refillable battery. You put in hydrogen, it outputs electricity. Once the hydrogen is gone, refill, and start again.
The FCX Clarity’s setup is similar to the Chevrolet Volt in the sense that both have an electric drivetrain with a seperate on-board source of electricity (the Volt’s being the aforementioned gasoline engine). The Clarity sets itself apart because it has already gone through several redesign’s and refinements while the Volt isn’t even out of the starting gate. For example, the 2009 model of the Clarity has a fuel cell that holds 17% more charge than the 2005 model, yet it is 65% smaller in volume.
The electric drivetrain has also been refined and offers one of the smoothest and most comfortable drives available in an eco-friendly vehicle. The Clarity also has a small lithium-ion battery pack onboard. When the vehicle is at a stop, the fuel cell shuts down to conserve energy, so when you first start going, the battery powers the car for the first few yards as the fuell cell automatically kicks back on.
Really the only thing holding the 2009 Honda FCX Clarity back from being the most important car in the world at the moment is the lack of a hydrogen distribution infrastructure. Hydrogen is the most abundant substance on the planet, indeed, in the entire galaxy, so once we are able to harness its power for a clean fuel, we will never, ever, run out of it. Analysts predict that the implementation of a hydrogen distribution network, and also the creation of hydrogen-produing facilities to accomodate a surge in demand, will take about 40 years. That may seem like a long time, but in the larger scheme of things, that is a very short period if the final prize is widespread hydrogen powered vehicles.