Text: Jude P. Morte / Photos: | posted November 30, 2006 00:00
Hybrids and FCX
As early as 1970 (when global pollution problems gained worldwide attention), Honda has been working double time to meet its self-imposed technology challenge for a sustainable, environment-friendly society. The company hopes to address three issues – energy sustainability, climate change and air quality.
For example, Honda's Civic Hybrid (introduced in the country June 2006) addresses the three aforementioned concerns in a big way. Its gasoline engine-electric motor/battery coupling (IMA or Integrated Motor Assist) gets twice as much fuel economy than conventional gas-powered cars, producing much less greenhouse emissions (thus contributing less to global warming), reducing fossil fuel reliance, and yielding cost savings over the vehicle's life due to slower value depreciation. Upon deceleration, energy is re-captured by the electric motor and stored in the battery for later use. As the vehicle accelerates, the battery's potential energy is brought to the electric motor to augment performance without further driver input. Since the IMA's electrical system is completely self-sustaining, it never needs to be plugged in for recharging. "This is due to the IMA being smaller, and its battery having a NiMH (nickel metal hydride, an environment-friendly alloy) composition. The IMA occupies one-eighths of the trunk, minimizing parts usage and providing better fuel economy," said Honda Motor Co. Ltd. environment and safety planning officer Michio Shinohara.
Another thrust of Honda's environment-friendly technology challenge is the move towards fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), such as Honda's FCX (Fuel Cell eXperimental) FCV. These vehicles use fuel cells, electrochemical energy conversion devices that differ from batteries in that they are designed for continuous replenishment of the reactants (fuel and oxidants, usually hydrogen and oxygen) consumed. They produce electricity from an external supply of reactants as opposed to a battery's limited internal energy storage capacity.
The FCX was first launched in 1999, featuring a fuel cell with a power output of 104hp, a whopping 272 NMs of torque and an US-certified range of 273.7 kilometers (kms). Currently the FCX has a powerplant that uses three electric motors. One is a front-wheel-drive motor with a 107 hp output, with a coaxial motor shaft link to the gearbox for a more compact front-end. The other two smaller engines have a maximum output of 34hp and drives each of the rear wheels. This layout makes the FCX technically an all-wheel-drive vehicle. It also has a V Flow fuel cell stack that can operate at temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius, achieved by allowing the gas to flow vertically in the fuel cell stack and produces a 570km range.
To support this hydrogen fuel-cell technology, Honda also introduced the HES (Home Energy Station) which can convert natural gas to electricity, heat and hydrogen to refuel FCVs, allowing consumers to refuel vehicles with hydrogen at home. Alternatively the hydrogen can be used in the HES's built-in hydrogen fuel cell, providing up to 6.7hp of normal or backup electricity and/or hot water for the home. According to Honda this solution is highly efficient and reduces electricity, gas and vehicle fuel running costs by up to 50 percent.
How sweet it is?
Another alternative presented was the benefits of ethanol as auto fuel, with Minister to the Brazilian embassy in Manila Paulo Fontoura using his native country as an example of a flourishing ethanol industry.
Ethanol is produced from sugarcane, which is a more efficient and easier to grow/process source of fermentable carbohydrates than corn. The sugarcane is harvested manually or mechanically and shipped to a processing plant. The cane is then roller-pressed to extract the juice, leaving behind a fibrous residue. The juice is then yeast-fermented, which break down the sucrose into carbon dioxide and ethanol. The result is further distilled, yielding ethanol and fusel oil (a solvent, primarily used for explosives), with the former either sold as is or be dehydrated and used as a gasoline additive (for gasohol cars).
Brazil has the largest sugarcane crop in the world, and is the largest producer of ethanol in the world. High government sales taxes on gasoline, as well as government subsidies for ethanol, have cultivated a profitable national ethanol industry, with nearly all fueling stations in Brazil offering a choice of either E25 (25 percent ethanol, 75 percent gasoline) blend or pure ethanol. Although the use of ethanol blends in gasoline was regulated by Brazilian law in 1931, it was only in 1975 when the first seeds of the country's ethanol industry were planted. The nationwide National Alcohol Program was financed by the government to phase out all fossil fuels in favor of ethanol. Since then the said program has featured structured public and fiscal incentives for both ethanol producers and end users and mandated a minimum 22 percent ethanol blend in gasoline. According to Fontoura, positive social-environment impacts from the program include deforested area recovery, promoted shift system production and created one million new jobs, with one billion barrels of oil saved over the past 30 years. "Technology and know-how needed to make ethanol is always there but government should take the lead to establish basic parameters," added Fontoura.
On the local front…
The Department of Energy (DOE) proposed targets on alternative fuel use locally. By 2010 the DOE sees an implementation of a two-percent biodiesel (such as coconut methyl ester) mix in vehicle diesel fuel, a ten-percent ethanol blend in gasoline, 2,000-3,000 Metro Manila buses running on compressed natural gas and a 60-percent self sufficiency energy level. "We also hope to develop, formulate and promulgate liquified petroleum gas (LPG) standards on transport, along with the necessary policies," said DOE energy utilization management bureau director Mario Marasigan.
There is a commercial on the Discovery Channel narrated by Patrick Stewart that presents the Earth as an island in the middle of an unknown sea (space). This "island" is densely populated, no one can leave it and supplies are truly limited. With scientists raising concern about fossil fuel overdependence (extrapolating that fossil fuel reserves will be vastly depleted in the next ten to 15 years), the previous sentence's last statement will become a reality unless people are educated (and hopefully do something) about the benefits of alternative transport fuels and alternative fuel vehicles.