Honda is one of the car manufacturers looking at small-scale hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from next year but big-volume numbers will not start ramping up until 2020, says Thomas Brachmann, Honda’s chief project engineer for powertrain technology.
There are still a great many hurdles to overcome, he said, not least the highly important issue of quality, not just in the fuel cell system but with the whole refilling infrastructure: "The quality of our vehicles is given but with a new technology such as this we have to give it time to achieve the levels of quality and reliability that we want," he said.
"With small volume production you can control this. For example there are hundreds of cells connected in a series in each fuel cell stack and they all need to work or the car will stop."
Brachmann said there needs to be greater levels of synchronisation across European governments in order to establish a hydrogen infrastructure. Some, notable Germany, the UK and the Scandinavian countries, are moving faster than others.
"You really need an infrastructure whereby there is less than 300kms between each station, and there need to be enough of them. It is no good having the capability to refill or recharge the tank in three or four minutes if you are having to queue for hours at the station."
Car manufacturers are working together with some governments to achieve this. In 2011, Honda joined the Clean Energy Partnership, Europe’s leading fuel cell vehicle and hydrogen infrastructure demonstration project. More recently, Honda’s joined the H2 Mobility Programmes in Germany and the UK.
Honda introduced its next generation FCEV at the Geneva Motor Show (March 6-16), featuring the world’s first application of a fuel-cell powertrain packaged completely in the engine bay of a saloon car, allowing improved cabin space and the flexibility to package the technology in other models in the future.