Honda and Isuzu’s Hydrogen Society

By Talicia Marie Stewart

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Honda and Isuzu have signed an agreement to conduct joint research on fuel cell-powered heavy-duty trucks. With companies like Toyota and Hyundai already successfully producing vehicles powered by fuel cells, it only makes sense for Honda and Isuzu to apply these technologies to larger, heavy-duty trucks.

Compared to other technologies, hydrogen fuel cells (FC) allow for a cleaner and more efficient energy conversion solution. Unlike the fossil fuels we use to power our cars, our motor bikes, our houses etc. (the typical vehicle producing 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year), hydrogen fuel cells do not emit any CO2. Instead, they emit only water, excess heat and electricity.

By using fuel cells, vehicle manufacturers like Honda and Isuzu hope to “address the on-going global challenge of reducing humanity’s environmental footprint” and work towards a more “sustainable energy.”

Isuzu has been working on developments for a clean diesel engine, engines for natural gas vehicles (NGVs), and electric vehicle (EV) powertrains. All of which work to reduce carbon emissions. While Isuzu aims to promote low-carbon usage and clean renewable energy, it also hopes these developments will accommodate to a broad range of customer needs. Similarly, Honda has been working towards the idea of a “carbon-free society.”

For the past thirty years, Honda has been researching and developing fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), which they describe as “the ultimate environmental technology.” In addition, Honda has also been developing and producing hybrid and battery electric vehicles since 1999. With Honda’s strengths in the FC development, and Isuzu’s strengths in the development of heavy-duty trucks, the two companies hope to establish the foundation for basic technologies, such as FC powertrain and vehicle control technologies. The aim for their two-year deal is to test Honda’s fuel cell powertrain, originally designed for passenger cars, in Isuzu’s commercial trucks. This, the companies say, may pave the way for FC use in a wider range of vehicles.

Specifically applying FC to large trucks, school buses and other large vehicles that travel great distances will greatly reduce carbon emissions. As a by-product, FCVs will generate their own electricity using hydrogen stored in onboard tanks, allowing for longer trips. This means the time it takes to refuel is also considerably less.

It isn’t the first time we’ve seen two companies join to create FC powered trucks. Earlier in 2019, Hyundai and H2 Energy announced the establishment of a joint venture, with plans to bring 1,600 fuel cell electric heavy-duty trucks into Europe by 2025.

In other parts of the world, the focus has been more sharply on electric cars (EC). Tesla sold 367,500 electric cars in 2019, and Elon Musk has even said that FCVs are “mind-bogglingly stupid.”

In China alone, it is estimated that there were 2.6 million electric cars sold last year. In the United States, that number was half, but still a very considerable amount.

Global FCV stock only reached 11,200 units at the end of 2018. Even though that was an 80% increase from the previous year, the market for FCVs is simply not big enough to warrant other manufacturers to produce them.

That is why it is notable that, out of the eight successful FCVs that have been put to market, six of them were made by Japanese companies; that is, Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota. With more plans to produce newer models of FCVs, like that of the heavy-duty truck, it seems that Japanese companies have no plans on slowing down while the rest of the world catches up.

Isuzu and Honda not only plan to produce the clean, low-noise, low-vibration heavy-duty trucks that their customers are waiting for, but to also encourage the debate that FC trucks and hydrogen energy can contribute to future prosperity.

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