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back to article Honda executes 180° turn on plug-in e-cars

If you listen very carefully, you can hear the screech of tyres at Honda as the company performs a U-turn. Ever since Honda President Takeo Fukui said that he saw no value in developing plug-in hybrid vehicles because the technology was immature, we've been anticipating this. And so it has come to pass. Honda R&D Chief Engineer …

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Yay

Good to see that they've finally stopped shilling for the oil industry.

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Erm...

This story comes out now - a couple of weeks after Honda started advertising the hybrid Insight on British TV?

Makes me think Honda might have been working on this for quite some time.

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Thermodynamics and the hydrogen economy...

Indeed the "hydrogen economy" has been looking very suspect for a long time. The entire end-to-end process is thermodynamically highly inefficient. There is not only the problem of producing the stuff in the first place, but more problematical is the storing and transporting the damned stuff. Compressing it of liquefying it is a very energy intensive.

Firstly, if hydrogen is produced by electrolysis then that is only 75% efficient (only if somebody can come up with a way of using sunlight and biological processes to produce hydrogen will that be overcome - and even then, it could very well be better to produce electricity direct). Then there is the efficiency of compression or liquefaction and transportation plus the final conversion efficiency in a fuel cell.

With compression to sensible levels, out of 100KWh electricity generated only 23KWh will be available to drive an electric vehicle. Use hydrogen liquefaction, and that drops to 19KWh. In contrast, the equivalent power transmission electricity/battery cycle can achieve almost 70%. The compression/liquefaction losses are inescapable - they simply come from the laws of thermodynamics.

So the "hydrogen economy" suffers from this huge problem of thermodynamic efficiency. In fact if you use fossil fuels to generate your electricity, then it is far, far more efficient to fuel your car direct. Put in a best case 40% thermodynamic efficiency for the power generation step, and the best case delivery-to-wheel efficiency is a miserable 10% compared to perhaps 25% in a car engine. Unless somebody really does come up with a Nuclear fusion reactor such that it is (to use a quote used on fission power in the 1960s) "to cheap to meter", efficiency will remain an issue. The chances of nuclear fusion being that cheap are vanishingly small given the overwhelming engineering challenges.

Of course the problem with battery storage is range and there is only so much that can be done with the technology. That's why the future is surely "plug-in" hybrids. Use battery storage for the average commute and a liquid-fueled IC engine for longer distances. Note that liquid fuels needn't be fossil fuels alone, although bio-diesel and the like have their own problems.

The hydrogen economy is virtually a non-starter. People have got carried away with this beautiful notion of producing only water out of the exhaust of a vehicle. But look at the overall cycle and it starts to fall apart (of course the Top-Gear crew are very fond of hydrogen power, but Clarkson is a scientific ignoramus).

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Dead Vulture

Stupidity

"Fukui - the same man who only last year said that e-cars can only manage 100km (62 miles) on a charge, which suggests he may be a bit behind the times or is paying too much attention to Jeremy Clarkson – steps down as President of Honda in February 2010."

I'd like the Reg hack writer, Alun, to tell us of ANY car or truck slated to have 100 km on a single charge, not needing a supplemental energy source, in the next five to ten years from any manufacturer.

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Alert

Dead tech

The push to EVs and hybrids etc may seem like a good idea but frankly the problem is the car in front. You know, the one that isn't moving and is stopping me from getting to my destination. It doesn't matter what power source that car uses, it is still in the way and I can't get past.

Until society realises that sitting in a traffic jam is what makes the car a pointless technology for commuting we're still just rearranging the deck chairs. Last year I bought a scooter and I have used it for my daily commute every day since. I get over 100 mpg in traffic and my journey over 15 miles through busy streets always takes me the same 35 mins. In a car it takes over an hour on a good day and some days it can be nearly two.

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Electric cars: the new hype

I do not understand the enthusiasm for electric cars. A short range of 100 km @ 100 km/h needs about 50 kwH energy for a current medium size car with normal load. For 50 kwH one needs about 300 kg fully charged Li-ion batteries (1300 kg lead-acid, which certainly is prohibitive). Carrying 300kg of batteries is about the same weight as 4 persons; not very efficient if you have to carry so much dead weight as default, but it is feasible. Also, thinking of what sometimes happens with laptop-sized Li-ion batteries (about 0.4 kg each), I would not much like to sit on 300 kg of those unstable batteries.

Recharging the batteries after a 100 km trip requires a 6 kW charger for 10 hours, or so much more power to get shorter charging times. That probably means a new power connection to your home. Some people say that with standard batteries you could get a battery exchange at "energy" stations. Lugging 300 kg from car to shop and back again is not something I'd like to do every day. And all that for a measly 100km range. I quite often drive 600 km distances...

Is such an electirc any good for the environment? I don't think so. Instead of waste gas produced by the exhaust of the car where it rides, more waste gas is produced at the site of the fossil fuel electricity plant, due to lower efficiency of the power generation-transmission-conversion-charging chain. In addition; what are we going to do with tons of batteries scrapped after 500-1000 charge-discharge cycles?

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@ac

Rav4 EVs from years ago still putting out more than that: http://www.evnut.com/rav_owner_100k.htm

All of the current vehicles by http://www.smithelectricvehicles.com/index.asp offer more than 100km...

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Happy

Fuel Cell

A liquid fuel and a fuel cell system can easily go 100 km. One can make methanol, for instance, from biomass pretty easily. I do it as a science experiment for kids (using a fume-hood, of course), Ethanol or any liquid fuel rich in hydrogen can work.

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Boffin

AC@16:52

"I'd like the Reg hack writer, Alun, to tell us of ANY car or truck slated to have 100 km on a single charge,"

Err. You are aware that the Tesla site is claiming 220 (that's 352Km) miles on the EPA city/highway cycle?

No idea what that is or if they have actually put one of their vehicles on a rolling road or its just a computer simulation (I think they can probably afford at least one actual test). And probably not relevant in the UK context. But that *is* their claim.

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@ AC "Stupidity"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_Roadster#Performance

Tool.

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Out of Range

Deadly dull repetition of what many others have observed, but even if Fukui were correct and the EV range was as short as he previously said I suspect I'm not the only one who'd then never have to purchase petrol for daily needs. Two cars are in my garage; if one were all-electric and the other gasoline my needs would be completely met, with the electric unit covering probably 80% of the miles I drive. My automotive-related hydrocarbon consumption would collapse.

A little perfectionism can sure go a long way to hindering pragmatic progress.

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Happy

Insight & Range

@Mike - the current Honda Insight is a petrol rather than plug-in hybrid. Honda had previously said they wouldn't make a plug-in hybrid. Hence the story.

@AC - a Tesla Roadster will do 100km on a charge with ease. One recently did rather more than that...http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2009/04/10/tesla_wins_at_monaco/. Mitsubishi's iMiEV will also cover 100 miles (162km) on a charge. You can buy a Tesla now, and an iMiEV is about a year. Both are plug-in EVs with no range extending IC motor. Or you can try to find a good second hand GM EV1 - the last ones built could over about 160 miles on a charge.

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Anonymous Coward

Leccy Tech

The big problem with a plug-in hybrid is the plug-in part of the equation. Where they make the most sense is in cities and the suburbs surrounding them.

In the UK and Europe the vast majority of people living in cities and suburbs only have access to on street parking. There will therefore need to be a huge investment in infrastructure to wire up kurbside charging points and you'll need to somehow figure out a way of metering each car, reading that meter automatically and charging the owner / driver for its use.

Furthermore the vast majority of people won't buy the cars until you have all the infrastructure in place for them to be able to charge them up at the roadside so you have to incur a huge amount of cost putting the infrastructure in place and yet get no return on that whilst you are building the infrastructure.

That is why hydrogen fuel cells are the future - the infrastructure is far cheaper and, importantly, quicker to put in place as you only need to upgrade existing petrol stations to be able to store hydrogen tanks and refuel hydrogen cars. Furthermore you can start off relatively small with, say, only the one pump dishing out hydrogen and a small tank and increase it as and when the tech takes off.

Compare the costs of this to the costs of running power cables to every kurbside parking point in city centres and suburbs and it is a no-brainer.

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AC, Tesla's have already been delivered

Tesla has delivered over 300 cars at last count. Mine is #751 and I've just received a firm delivery date last week for September 21st, 2009.

Look through YouTube for videos of current owners and their cars.

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Why EV.. well because...

@Albert Stienstra

Well, lets see why electric cars have potential

There is an existing distribution network for electricity.

There are no (local) emissions.

There is the potential for energy recovery through regenerative breaking.

The energy supply is disconnected from a single resource.(think oil), and can be supplied by many sources, including renewables.

There is potential for better use the energy, in that large generators, line losses, electric motors and batteries can be more efficient than small IC engines.

The potential for large gains in performance as EV's go through their technological life cycle, and they may even exceed petrol vehicles and power and range (in 70 years).

They create a lot less noise pollution.

They create a lot less road side pollution (oil/petrol residues) allowing better use of waste water (big problem in Aus).

The vehicles should last a lot longer as they don't contain as many moving parts, solvents or hot bits.

They should have lower service costs, and are simpler to maintain.

They are Freaking Cool.

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Plug-in hybrid - user demand

It was Prius users in the USA that developed their own plug-in modifications and subsequently, one or more companies that sold the mod. Their idea was to reduce the dependence on petrol, not remove the need altogether. Toyota simply responded to the market (they had previously said they didn't see a need for plug-in charging). I guess Honda are doing the same.

For many commuters, a range of 20 - 30 Km might be enough - if they can charge up at work. If they can't, the car will simply revert to using petrol. Some guy at my last job used to charge his Renault Electrique for free every day from a socket in the company's underground car park.

The snag with hydrogen is that it isn't here now - there's nowhere you can fill up. It's a chicken and egg situation - no hydrogen refueling infrastructure, no hydrogen cars - which comes first.

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Tech

We seem to do quite well in terms of bashing individual techs, which is why they aren't getting built.

The electric motor is a good way of putting power to the road, even Sir Clarkson will agree - getting power to it is interesting, there are various methods for generating electricity, so we should look at standard INTERFACES.

If we decide on a size and shape of "power source" and a nominal voltage then we can stick LiON in there now, and replace them with carbon based fast chargers, fuel cells, or magic pixie dust when they become commercially viable.

If cars had a few such "slots" then you could buy a car with just one battery pack (the wife only goes to the shops in it...) for relatively little cost, and add more, better capacity, power sources later - as required.

This allows us to have decent vehicles, with upgradable and replaceable power sources. No LiON is a killer tech for all car journeys - but it would make perfect sense for most second cars, and for quite alot of "first" cars.

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Go

hydrogen car efficiencies

some interesting arguments in this book, available online about electric versus hydrogen in "Sustainable energy - without hot air" (a really good book if you want to understand green energy in general).

http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c20/page_128.shtml

http://www.withouthotair.com/Contents.html

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@JohnG

Indeed the lack of availability of a fueling infrastructure is a problem for hydrogen powered cars. But it isn't the fundamental problem - that is the essentially very poor thermodynamic efficiency of the whole supply chain that simply can't be got round as it is dictated by some basic laws of physics (primarily those involved in the electrolysis and the unrecoverable energy lost in compression or liquefaction stages).

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Happy

Where do most UK cars spend their time?

I'd prepared to wager that during the week most UK cars are in the car park of people's employers, multi-story car parks in general or the car parks of railway (or possibly bus) stations.

Obviously this does not apply to most Reg readers, who I believe are mostly international IT consultants and may have to go anywhere in the world at fairly short notice to rescue some multi-billion pound IT development from disaster. Your cars will be in the airport long-stay areas instead (Unless some of you been fibbing when you fill in those reader profiling questionnaires).

So perhaps hooking up all those car parks first *might* be a good idea. If you go the hybrid route, with both a fuel and charging cap then the fuel can get you to the car park but the battery can get you home, and probably will for quite a few days to come.

In fact were the Govt to play this correctly they would combine this with some kind of trading agreement, offsetting car pollution VS employer pollution, or CO2 emitted from power station Vs Co2 from car. And lets not forget the reduced ground level particulates and ozone.

Provided we sort out a standard UK (Europe?) wide plug of course.

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