- Honda Motor Co. said it plans to expand its hydrogen business by selling around 2,000 units per year in the mid-2020s.
- By 2030, Honda plans to sell 60,000 fuel cell systems a year, and its fuel cell system will be used in vehicles, stationary power stations, and construction equipment.
Honda’s Expanding Hydrogen Strategy – Taking FCEV Technology to New Domains. The use of hydrogen is being explored around the world. Hydrogen, along with electricity, is a high-potential energy carrier which will contribute toward achieving carbon neutrality. Two leaders who will play key roles in upcoming major moves in Honda’s hydrogen business discuss why hydrogen is so important, and how Honda will utilize it.
Honda today held a press briefing on its hydrogen business initiatives. The presenters at the event included the following Honda executives:
- Shinji Aoyama Director and Senior Managing Executive Officer
- Arata Ichinose, Operating Executive, Head of the Business Development Supervisory Unit
A summary of the briefing follows:
1. Honda initiatives to expand the use of hydrogen, a step forward toward a carbon-neutral society
Honda is striving to realize carbon neutrality for all products and corporate activities Honda is involved in by 2050. Aiming for “zero environmental impact” of not only its products but the entire product lifecycle including its corporate activities, Honda is focusing on the following areas as the “three-pillars” of its initiatives: “carbon neutrality,” “clean energy,” and “resource circulation.” In its initiatives, Honda positions hydrogen as one of the high-potential energy carriers, along with electricity.
The “hydrogen circulation cycle,” which starts with renewable energy, consists of three phases – “generate,” “store/transport” and “use.” To be more specific, with the use of water electrolysis technology, electricity derived from renewable energy sources can be converted into “green hydrogen*3,” making it less susceptible to fluctuations in power generation due to seasonality and weather conditions, and it becomes possible to transport the energy to where it is needed in the form of “green hydrogen” via appropriate methods such as transport by land, sea, and pipeline.
Honda will expand the applications of its fuel cell system, the core of Honda hydrogen technology, not only to Honda FCEVs but also to various internal and external applications, thereby serving to stimulate demand for hydrogen and facilitating the carbon neutrality of society through the “use” of hydrogen.
*3Hydrogen produced by electrolyzing water using renewable energy, which emits no CO2 during the production process.
2. Further advancement of the fuel cell system, the core of Honda hydrogen technology
Honda was one of the first companies to focus on the potential of hydrogen toward the realization of a carbon-neutral society and has been conducting research and development of hydrogen technologies and FCEVs for more than 30 years. Since 2013, Honda has been working with GM on the joint development of the next-generation fuel cell system.
＜Advancement of the fuel cell system＞
・In 2024, in North America and Japan, Honda will launch an FCEV model equipped with the next-generation fuel cell system jointly developed with GM. While cost and durability are viewed as typical challenges that needed to be addressed to facilitate widespread use of fuel cell systems, this next-generation fuel cell system, which leverages the knowledge, know-how and economies of scale of both companies, will reduce the cost to one-third compared to the cost of the fuel cell system in the 2019 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell. This significant cost reduction was achieved by various measures including the adoption of innovative materials for electrodes, advancement of a cell sealing structure, simplification of the supporting equipment (“balance of plant”) and the improvement of productivity. Moreover, the durability of the system was doubled by the application of corrosion-resistant materials and controlled suppression of deterioration, and low temperature resistance was also increased significantly.
・Building on these achievements through co-development with GM, looking ahead to the future around 2030, when fuel cell use is expected to begin to advance toward full-fledged popularization, Honda has begun fundamental research on future fuel cell technologies with targets to halve the cost and double the durability compared to the fuel cell system co-developed with GM. In doing so, Honda is striving to realize usability and total cost which will enable the fuel cell system to be on par with conventional diesel engines.
＜Utilization of hydrogen technologies in the field of space technology＞
・Honda is conducting advanced research and development of hydrogen technologies while envisioning use in outer space, another potential area where hydrogen technologies can be utilized. In addition to water and food, people need oxygen, as well as hydrogen for fuel and electricity for various activities supporting life in space. To enable sustainable space activities, it is necessary to reduce the need to resupply these resources from Earth as much as possible. One of the solutions to this challenge is to create a circulative renewable energy system, which combines a high differential pressure water electrolysis system that produces oxygen and hydrogen using solar energy to electrolyze water, and a fuel cell system that generates electricity and water from oxygen and hydrogen. To create such a system, Honda conducted joint research and development with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) during the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years (period ended March 31, 2022). Moreover, in 2022, Honda signed a research and development contract*4 with JAXA regarding the “circulative renewable energy system” that is designed to supply electricity to maintain the functionality of the living space and various systems of lunar rovers. Based on this contract, Honda will be commissioned by JAXA to first conduct concept studies, then to develop a “breadboard model*5,” an early-stage prototype, by the end of the 2024 fiscal year (ending March 31, 2024).
*4“A contract regarding concept study and prototyping of functional elements for the regenerative fuel cell system for a manned pressurized rover.” A regenerative fuel cell system consists of a water electrolysis system and a fuel cell system. A water electrolysis system electrolyzes water to produce oxygen and hydrogen, and a full cell system generates electricity from hydrogen to oxygen. Honda’s regenerative fuel cell system is called “circulative renewable energy system” as it features Honda’s original high differential pressure water electrolysis system.
*5Systems to be used in outer space are typically developed by building prototypes in stages, such as a “breadboard model,” “engineering model” and “flight model,” depending on the stage of development.
(For reference) https://humans-in-space.jaxa.jp/faq/detail/000491.html (Japanese)
3. Starting external sales and expanding applications of the fuel cell system
In light of environmental trends in the world, Honda will continue expanding the application of its fuel cell systems, the core of Honda hydrogen technology, beyond its FCEVs in order to contribute to the realization of a carbon-neutral society. To this end, Honda will begin external sales of the next-generation fuel cell system modules in the mid-2020s. Honda is envisioning the initial sales level of 2,000 units per year and will strive to expand sales in stages, with goals to increase sales to 60,000 units in 2030, and to a few hundred thousand units per year by the second half of the 2030s.
＜Four core domains＞
Due to the unique characteristics of hydrogen, which can store and transport energy at high density and fill the tank quickly, the fuel-cell system is expected to be particularly effective as a power source for heavily used large-size mobility products and large-scale infrastructure as well as for mobility products that require quick refueling where it is difficult to be powered by batteries. Moreover, multiple units of the fuel cell system can be connected in parallel to achieve higher output. Based on these characteristics and strengths, Honda has identified four core domains for its fuel cell system applications for the early phase of its entry into hydrogen business: Honda FCEV models, commercial vehicles, stationary power stations and construction machinery and has begun developing hydrogen businesses targeting business-to-business (B2B) customers as well.
Honda is planning to begin sales of the all-new FCEV model in 2024 in North America and Japan. This model will be based on the CR-V introduced last year in North America and equipped with the next-generation fuel cell system. In addition to the advantages of FCEVs, which enables long-distance driving with short refueling time, this all-new FCEV model will feature a plug-in function that offers the convenience of EVs which can be recharged at home.
2) Commercial vehicles
In Japan, Honda is planning to start demonstration testing on public roads of a prototype fuel cell-powered heavy-duty truck being researched jointly with Isuzu Motors Limited, before the end of the upcoming fiscal year 2024 (ending March 31, 2024).
In Hubei Province, China, in January 2023, Honda began demonstration test driving of commercial trucks equipped with the next-generation fuel cell system in collaboration with Dongfeng Motor Group Co., Ltd.
3) Stationary power stations
In recent years, the power requirements of data centers have been growing rapidly due to the expansion of cloud computing and big data utilization, and the need for backup power sources has been increasing from the perspective of business continuity planning (BCP). To accommodate such needs, Honda will propose the application of its fuel cell systems in the area of power generation, starting from the application as a clean and quiet backup power source.
As the first step, a stationary fuel cell power station with an approximate capacity of 500kW, which reuses fuel cell systems from Honda Clarity Fuel Cell vehicles, was installed on the corporate campus of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. in California, U.S. The demonstration operation of the station as a backup power source for the data center will begin later this month. Subsequent to this testing, Honda will begin applying stationary fuel cell power station technologies to Honda factories and data centers around the world, through which Honda strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operation as well.
4) Construction machinery
Honda will take initiative to apply its fuel cell system first to excavators and wheel loaders, which account for a large segment of the construction machinery market, contributing to the realization of carbon neutrality for construction machinery.
Concerning hydrogen supply for construction machinery which is considered difficult to handle with conventional stationary hydrogen stations alone, Honda will work with construction industry associations and related parties to work toward resolving the challenge.
＜Expansion of the value chain＞
In order for more businesses to actively utilize fuel cell systems, it is important to solve issues such as reducing development investment and man-hours for installation, suppressing total cost and ensuring a stable and inexpensive supply of hydrogen. Honda will offer not only development support to adapt its fuel cell system to the customers’ products but also operational support such as after-sales maintenance and a stable supply of hydrogen, thereby making a one-stop contribution to the customers’ efforts toward carbon neutrality.
4. Initiatives toward the establishment of hydrogen ecosystems
To achieve widespread utilization of fuel cell systems, it is critical to establish hydrogen ecosystems, that include hydrogen supply. Honda has been supporting the expansion of hydrogen station networks in Japan by participating in the Japan Hydrogen Station Network Joint Company (Japan H2 Mobility/JHyM) and in North America by supporting hydrogen station businesses such as Shell and FirstElement Fuel.
From here forward, as a new area, Honda will take an active role in establishing hydrogen ecosystems which center around stationary power stations and start from where demand for hydrogen exists. Honda will also proactively participate in projects organized by national and local governments that utilize large volumes of imported hydrogen at ports and other locations. Through these initiatives, Honda will work to build partnerships with companies involved in this new area.
In Japan, working toward the establishment of a hydrogen ecosystem, together with Marubeni Corporation and Iwatani Corporation, Honda has begun discussing the prospects for hydrogen supply and the utilization of fuel cell commercial vehicles. In Europe, Honda is currently planning for demonstration testing of an energy ecosystem that combines renewable energy and hydrogen.
While continuing to strengthen collaboration and coordination with various companies in the hydrogen value chain, Honda will continue taking on new challenges in earnest to expand the utilization of hydrogen.
Honda plans to launch the next-generation FCEV model. Why hydrogen now?
Hydrogen is expected to have high potential as a clean energy carrier. Why is hydrogen important?
Ichinose Hydrogen is expected to be used in combination with power generation from renewable energy sources, which is indispensable for achieving carbon neutrality. Power generation from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power is more susceptible to seasonality and weather conditions and therefore unstable. To ensure stable use of renewable energy, we need a means to store electricity that absorbs the impact of fluctuations in power generation. This is where hydrogen shows high potential as an energy carrier.
Ichinose The hydrogen cycle begins with renewable energy and consists of three phases – generate, store/transport and use. Electricity derived from renewable energy can be converted into “green hydrogen*” using water electrolysis technology. By utilizing this hydrogen, electricity can be stored as hydrogen, and at the same time, be transported by land and sea, and pipeline. By utilizing fuel cell systems, environmentally-responsible electricity can be produced without CO2 emissions.
*Hydrogen generated through electrolysis of water using electricity derived from renewable energy sources
Hydrogen has many advantages. How has Honda been approaching hydrogen?
Hasebe Honda has long been conducting research and development of fuel cells, which generate electricity from hydrogen and oxygen. We began working on the application of fuel cells to passenger vehicles, ahead of other automakers, in the second half of the 1990s, and in 2002 we launched the world’s first FCEV, simultaneously in Japan and the U.S. In 2008, we launched the FCX Clarity sedan. Then, we further downsized our fuel cells, and in 2016, we introduced the Clarity Fuel Cell, which became the world’s first FCEV that realized 5-seat packaging. Next year, in 2024, we plan to launch an all-new FCEV based on the CR-V 5-seater SUV.
Hasebe My first encounter with an FCEV was when I saw a prototype based on the first-generation Odyssey, which only had first row seats and the rest of the vehicle was filled with the required fuel cell units. I was amazed and thought it looked like a small-scale power plant.
With the Clarity Fuel Cell, as a function leader, I was in charge of developing power electronics and control system components. We had to comply with tough requirements for high output and compact size, and we also took on technological challenges nobody in the world had done before. Although we struggled with the high level of technical difficulty, I feel that it was a very good experience for Honda.
Expanding Honda business into four domains of hydrogen utilization
How will Honda expand applications of its fuel cells in the future?
Ichinose Honda has been elevating the performance of its fuel cell systems by solving issues one by one, such as downsizing, cost reduction and improving durability. Through the co-development with General Motors (GM), which started in 2013, we have further reduced the cost and increased durability and low-temperature resistance. And now, in addition to applying to our passenger vehicles, we will begin external sales of this next-generation fuel cell system to expand the field where our technology can be utilized.
Hasebe Hydrogen has some unique characteristics such as higher energy density compared to a battery, with high transportability and a short time to fill the tank. This makes hydrogen suitable as a power source for large-size mobility products that are heavily used, mobility products that require quick energy refueling and large-scale infrastructure, which are considered difficult to be powered by batteries.
Ichinose Honda is striving to realize a carbon-neutral society by utilizing its fuel cell systems, the core of Honda hydrogen technology. To this end, we would like to expand the circle of hydrogen utilization as fast as we can. To achieve this goal, we have identified four core domains we will focus on during the early phase of our hydrogen business: Honda FCEV models, commercial vehicles, stationary power stations and construction machinery.
Honda will take on new challenges in the domains of commercial vehicles, stationary power stations and construction machinery. Why these three?
Ichinose Commercial vehicles are heavier and have longer range than passenger vehicles and, therefore, benefit significantly from the utilization of hydrogen energy. By combining multiple units of our fuel cell system, the high output required by commercial trucks can be achieved.
We have already begun multiple joint research projects on commercial fuel cell trucks. With Isuzu Motors, we completed a prototype of a fuel cell-powered heavy-duty truck in 2021, and we are planning to begin demonstration testing on public roads before the end of the upcoming fiscal year ending March 31, 2024 (FY2024). Furthermore, in China, which has one of the largest commercial vehicle markets in the world, we have begun performance verification of medium-duty fuel cell truck jointly with Dongfeng Motor Group.
Hasebe Aside from mobility products, we are also taking on challenges in the area of power generation, to make clean stationary power stations (power generators installed in factories and other commercial facilities). Stationary power stations are usually used for peak shaving or as a regulating power source; however, they are also required to operate continuously for 48 hours or more as a backup power source in case of a disaster. This is where the value of hydrogen, which can store energy at high density, comes into play.
We have just installed a stationary fuel cell power station on the corporate campus of American Honda and will begin in-house demonstration operation as a backup power source for a data center. Although performance verification has yet to be conducted, we have confirmed that the station, which reuses and combines multiple fuel cell units from Honda Clarity Fuel Cell vehicles, generates electricity without any problem. From here onward, we would like to build a track record of installing stationary fuel cell power stations to our own facilities, so we can deliver our fuel cell power station technology to customers as soon as possible.
Ichinose Construction machinery, which is heavy and operates for long hours, is another area where hydrogen energy utilization is expected. In the construction machinery market, many excavators and wheel loaders are powered by diesel engines, and if we can begin converting them to become hydrogen-powered, we can make a greater contribution to carbon neutrality.
Hasebe In addition to the contribution to carbon neutrality, being a zero-emission power unit is an important feature of fuel cells. Also, fuel cell systems make less vibration and noise than diesel engines. These features enable fuel cell-powered commercial trucks and construction machinery to be quieter, reduce driver/user fatigue, enhance safety at work sites and reduce the burden on people who are in the vicinity. Technology helps people, and Honda takes this very seriously.
Ichinose We are looking into outer space as a future field where hydrogen technologies can play an important role. We have been commissioned by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to conduct research and development of a “circulative renewable energy system” that combines our fuel cell system and high differential pressure water electrolysis system to supply electricity to the living space of a lunar rover. We hope to hone our technology in the harsh environment of outer space, and further expand our field of contribution back on Earth.
Realizing carbon neutrality by connecting hydrogen use across various domains
How will Honda’s hydrogen business evolve in the future, with an emphasis on collaboration with other companies?
Hasebe There are two directions of collaboration. One is to collaborate with manufacturers that produce and sell original equipment such as commercial vehicles and construction machienry, which we view as a “point” strategy. The other is collaboration to form hydrogen ecosystems and create an economic zone. We see this as a “surface” strategy.
Our collaboration with OEMs of commercial trucks is an easy example of the “point” strategy. As to “surface” strategy, we will pursue collaboration which evolves around stationary power stations and hydrogen supply, targeting businesses and facilities which are expected to have major demand for hydrogen such as data centers, factories and ports. By combining various batteries and hydrogen-powered mobility products, we will strive to realize hydrogen ecosystems unique to Honda, which accommodate the needs of society. To this end, we will accelerate collaboration and partnering in this area.
Tell us about your passions toward the realization of carbon neutrality which we see beyond the popularization of hydrogen use?
Ichinose In the future society, to which we are heading, we believe it is necessary to efficiently use a variety of energy sources available in each region, and advance our mobility and daily lives. It is not a choice between electricity or hydrogen. It is important for us to understand the unique characteristics of both and utilize the right energy in the right places and for the right purposes.
Our environmental target of “realizing carbon neutrality for all products and corporate activities Honda is involved by 2050” is not something we can accomplish easily. To achieve this target, we need to contribute to the optimization of total energy consumption and energy efficiency for the entire society by taking into account the diversity of mobility products, the various ways and living environments in which people use mobility products and the availability of renewable energy in each area.
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Ichinose There is no end to the challenges we need to take on, such as increasing the competitiveness of our fuel cell technologies and building partnerships to work toward the realization of a hydrogen ecosystem. Beyond these challenges, we will become able to offer even greater value to our customers and society by offering various Honda products which are linked to each other and connected across various domains. For the realization of carbon neutrality, along with our EV and fuel cell businesses, we would like to create new businesses that will enable Honda to provide a new value of mobility.