Honda Engineer Promotes Hydrogen, Has No Idea How Renewable Energy Works


Speaking to the press at the Geneva auto show, Thomas Brachmann, chief project engineer of research & development in Europe for Honda, tried to explain why his company continues to invest time and money in fuel cell cars powered by hydrogen. Honda believes battery power may be fine for smaller cars in the future but hydrogen is the way to go for larger vehicles.

Honda Clarity hydrogen car


Three Cheers For Electrolysis

But before we get to that, Brachmann had this to say about hydrogen production and renewable energy. “Photovoltaic electrolysis as a means of producing hydrogen is feasible, because it’s the only means we have of converting renewable energy electricity into a usable fuel and, even more important, into a proper storage media for renewable energy.

“For example, wind and sun can produce too much power during some days so either the wind-power generators are stopped, or they run and we have to sell the electricity to the grid for a very low price and, possibly, even have to pay the grid to take it because it may not be ready to accept more than it can handle.”

“This means we have to find renewable energy storage. If we have bi-directional charging that’s fine with batteries, or else the other solution is hydrogen. Then we have to look at what is the value of the hydrogen and for which industrial purposes?”

Hydrogen Makes The World Go Round

So, apparently Honda’s official position is that making hydrogen through the use of excess renewable energy is something humanity needs to do in order not to keep all that free solar and wind power from being wasted. Interesting.

Brachmann also dredges up the old bugaboo about battery degradation. “Even if you have all-battery EVs, we have to consider very carefully the lifetime of the batteries. When does the degradation start by excessive charging and recharging, and what is the benefit for the customer?”

Batteries Have Their Place

“As we said in our study of 2010, we see the smaller cars using battery power and the bigger cars using fuel-cell systems. So we need to look at where does the battery end and the hydrogen car start. We see the Honda Civic growing bigger and bigger, more or less for the European taste (and) replacing the Accord, and so we need to see if we can integrate this platform with this model level.

“The Clarity is larger and developed for the U.S. and targeted as a chauffeured limousine as it would be also in Japan. It could fit into Honda’s European portfolio, too, and we have to see what is the development of (fueling) infrastructure. This is why we need to ramp up the availability of hydrogen fuel stations first.” Just out of curiosity, Thomas, how many Americans are shopping for chauffeur driven limousines these days?

Infrastructure Is Infrastructure

Brachmann claims the cost of building hydrogen fueling infrastructure and the cost of building EV charging infrastructure are basically the same, so why not go the hydrogen route? One answer is that any electric car can be conveniently recharged at home overnight. Home hydrogen refueling stations? Yeah, we’re going to need lots of those.

The cost of an EV charging station with multiple chargers is about $300,000. The cost of a hydrogen refueling station can go as high as $3 million. Might be time to check your math, Herr Brachmann. It might be time to start shorting Honda stock and mark it as one more legacy car maker starting to circle the drain.

Source and photo credit: Ward’s Auto

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I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • WebUserAtLarge

    OK, where are all the Honda’s “…smaller cars using battery power…”? Once upon a time Honda was the undisputed king of small cars. Nowadays Honda can’t even make a decent Prius fighter. Just don’t think Honda wants ANYTHING but hydrogen…

    • James Rowland

      Perhaps they were too busy making exploding race engines for the Indy 500?

      • Steve Hanley

        oh, that is COLD! ; – )

        • kevin mccune

          “On Honda,why hast thou fallen from grace , thou bright morning star?”
          Hey that was rather cold, you know what ,I couldn’t believe some of things that spokesman was saying( If you dont need the power , you dont have to do anything with it ( ok use it to heat water ,if nothing else ) Hydrogen , is not the way to go in my opinion , shoot if you are going to do that , use to reformulate CO2 and water into {gag} hydrocarbon fuels at least the infrastructure exists ti use it .

  • Eco Logical

    Remember the NiMH battery?

    In 1999 Toyota was forced (by Chevron) to stop making the RAV4 EV and shut down their NiMH battery factory. At the same time GM was forced to recall and crush all the EV1s. COBASYS (Chevron subsidiary) still makes the NiMH batteries for all those millions of Hybrids being manufactured by legacy automakers.

    Could it be that Chevron is still intimidating (bullying) legacy automakers to make non-plugin hybrids?

    After all, the Hybrid slogan is:


    But it appears the reality is:


    (because Chevron won’t let you)

    • James Rowland


      It mystifies me how that is sold as an advantage. Who wants to maximise how much they pay for their car’s energy?

      Well, I mean besides the people selling them that energy.

    • kevin mccune

      There seems to be something going on , maybe after “disclosure ” there is something better .

  • James Rowland

    At least they’re not claiming hydrogen is an energy source.

    There might be a role for fuel cells powering heavy vehicles and equipment, but the threshold where that makes economic sense is already larger than a private car. (E.g. Mirai vs. Model 3 isn’t going to be a difficult choice. BYD’s K9 bus is 14 metric tonnes and still competes on lifetime cost.)

    While battery costs continue falling, that isn’t changing in Honda et al’s favour.

    Even if fuel cells overtake batteries on per vehicle capital costs (which is likely if R&D continues) there’s still the infrastructure issue (which is far closer to solved for BEVs than HFCVs) and the efficiency issue (which can’t be fixed and is relevant so long as energy costs something.)

    It also looks like a several times increase in cycle life (without significant cost increase) is possible on Li-ion cells, and their life is already far better than expected.

    The drawbacks of batteries keep receding from where they have to be for HFCs to win. It is indeed going to be super-obvious who placed their bets wrong, and I’ve got my popcorn ready.

  • kevin mccune

    One of these days if I ever acquire enough money , I think that an EV is for me. I simply do not like changing oil and sparkplugs, exhaust systems and the smell of aromatic HCs.

  • techiedavid

    The cost of infrastructure the engineer is quoting per car use, not per station. At $300,000 for a EV charger how many cars per day?
    A Hydrogen station can handle 50 or more cars per day.

    • James Rowland

      If you’re concerned about the fairness of the comparison, consider this: Hydrogen cars have to get all their energy from an expensive facility. BEVs don’t.

      A high power wall outlet at home will cost a homeowner about $100 to install, and suffices for around nine tenths of typical car use. (You only need fast DC chargers for road trips.)

      Power sharing charge point systems for apartment dwellers are already available, and they aren’t expensive either. Neither is adding charge points to street furniture for BEVs parked on the road; it’s already happening.

      No, hydrogen is not going to compete on infrastructure costs.