* Hydrogen car FCX Clarity to go to market around 2018
* Carmaker touts solar-powered home refueling option
* 48 solar panels for 10,000 miles per year
By Mary Milliken
TORRANCE, California, March 12 Coming not so
soon and probably not to a house near you is the home solar
hydrogen refueling station -- Honda Motor Co's (7267.T) latest
idea in its drive to make hydrogen the fuel of choice for zero
The Japanese auto giant believes hydrogen fuel-cell
vehicles offer the best long-term alternative to fossil fuels
and the company showed on Friday a refueling breakthrough that
it says points to a home version down the road.
Most major automakers have spent billions of dollars in
researching hydrogen-powered fuel cells, tempted by the idea of
a car that uses no gasoline and emits only water vapor. But
Honda is widely seen as the hydrogen leader, while others like
General Motors GM.UL put more effort into battery-powered
electric vehicles like the upcoming Volt.
One of the big barriers to hydrogen car deployment is the
lack of refueling infrastructure, leading Honda to bet that the
future lies in combining a public station network with a more
modest home option.
Honda's home option will comprise a solar-powered hydrogen
refueling station using solar panels.
"Customers can choose how they interact with both of them
based on their annual miles and their habits," said Stephen
Ellis, fuel cell manager at the Honda's North American
headquarters in Torrance, California.
"The key thing to remember is that with five-minute
refueling you are good for another 240 miles," Ellis added.
That range comes from the "fast-fill" public station, of
which there are just a handful in Southern California, where
Honda leases 15 FCX Clarity hydrogen-powered vehicles and is
set to distribute more in coming months.
Eight hours of home solar refueling would guarantee a
smaller range of 30 miles (50 km) or about 10,000 miles (16,000
km per year -- enough for an average commuting car.
At the Los Angeles R&D center, engineers refueled the sleek
FCX Clarity sedan with a new single-unit station connected to a
solar array that replaces a two-unit system, cutting costs and
improving efficiency by 25 percent.
"This is wonderful progress, the biggest progress," said
Ikuya Yamashita, the chief engineer of the station.
The station uses a 6-kilowatt solar array, composed of 48
panels and thin film solar cells developed by a Honda
subsidiary. It breaks down the water into hydrogen in what
Honda calls a "virtually carbon-free energy cycle."
The FCX Clarity's hydrogen "stack" -- or the electricity
generator -- is around the size of an attache case, tucked
between the two front seats, and is a fifth of the stack size
developed a decade ago.
The car is likely to be sold commercially around 2018 in
the luxury large sedan category, while the solar hydrogen
refueling system could move beyond the research stage and into
the market-ready phase around 2015.
"A lot of this work is not necessarily for today's economic
situation," said Ellis. "This is for tomorrow, when most people
feel energy prices will be higher."
(Additional reporting by Poornima Gupta; Editing by Gary