Home Refueling of Honda’s Natural Gas Civic Leading to Hydrogen Vehicles

Ron Cogan | Dec 18, 2002

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Ever since Honda’s gaseous-fueled Civic GX rolled off the assembly line in 1998, it was evident that this alternative fuel car could be an ideal one for consumers, not just the fleets that were in Honda’s sights.

That assessment came after extended testing of this vehicle. More than a year behind the wheel of a compressed natural gas Civic GX prompted the conclusion that if CNG refueling was conveniently nearby, there was every reason to buy and drive this sedan as a family car, let alone a fleet vehicle.

These vehicles are nearly seamless in their operation on natural gas. They are also comfortable, capable, and the cleanest-running internal combustion production vehicles on the planet.

The only part of the driving experience different from a gasoline vehicle is refueling. The CNG Civic’s 200 or so mile range – something that varies depending upon driving habits and certain environmental factors like ambient temperature – requires filling up more often than a typical gasoline vehicle. As experience has proved, though, that doesn’t really pose a problem.

What is an issue is that there are 75,000 gasoline stations in the U.S., but only slightly more than 1,200 CNG stations. This means that long-distance trips must be planned carefully around refueling opportunities, or more likely, the Civic GX is a family’s second car. The dearth of CNG stations also means that many new car buyers who might want to buy and drive a Civic GX cannot. If CNG isn’t available, it just isn’t available.

But now that limitation may become but an historical footnote. Honda says it will be selling its natural gas Civic to consumers in 2003, and it has added a new twist to overcome the fueling station conundrum: the potential for home refueling.

Honda, which owns a 20% stake in FuelMaker Corp., is working with this company to develop an affordable home refueling appliance that will allow operation of the Civic GX virtually anywhere. With a target retail price of $1,000 and a planned introduction late next year, the FuelMaker appliance solves the chicken-and-egg dilemma faced by all alternative fuels – refueling availability. Simply, with a FuelMaker, there’s no need for a public refueling station to drive one of these vehicles.

The FuelMaker appliance, called “Phill,” will be the first low-cost, home-based refueling appliance. Mounted in a garage, it will allow natural gas vehicles to be refueled directly from a homeowner's existing natural gas supply line, with the gas compressed from extremely low pressure to the high pressure needed to fill a vehicle’s CNG tank.

The home refueling concept goes way beyond the needs of Honda’s Civic, or any natural gas vehicle for that matter. Importantly, it holds promise for a future generation of hydrogen-fueled vehicles powered by fuel cells.

This is underscored by yet another joint effort – this one between Honda R&D and fuel cell developer Plug Power – that seeks to incorporate home hydrogen refueling with a natural gas powered residential fuel cell that supplies a home with heat, hot water, and electricity. Refueling a fuel cell vehicle with home-produced hydrogen would simply be another benefit of such a system.

Both approaches speak to Honda’s significant interest in home refueling. Indeed, coupling a consumer-oriented natural gas Civic with a method of refueling at home may come as a surprise to some, but probably shouldn’t. Honda has been on this track for a while now because of its past electric vehicle development.

According to Honda R&D Co. Ltd. president Takeo Fukui, the company’s experience with customers charging Honda EVs at their homes helped create an understanding of the challenges facing natural gas vehicles. Simply, both EVs and NGVs lack a widespread public refueling infrastructure, something that makes establishing a consumer market a challenge.

Perhaps Honda and Phill will resolve that challenge, all the while paving the way for hydrogen at-home refueling for a future genre of fuel cell vehicles.

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Comments

There is only one problem with “Phill,” and that is it uses natural gas. In fact, if you examine the EIA energy database site and go to the U.S. section, if you do the math on domestic supply, if we used only our own oil, we have a 3-year supply. If we used only our own natural gas, we have only an 8-year supply (we currently import very little gas, but 70% of our oil).

Bottom line? We don't have any more room for so called “modern” vehicles that are premium priced that use gas or oil. And, we need to displace large vehicles with smaller more efficient vehicles to do the same job. We really need 100% electric vehicles for personal transportation, and that is where the government push should be.

In my view, U.S. Energy policy is in for a complete overhaul, and I predict we will see it sooner than you think. And Detroit is going to be setting far different priorities than they think they are because we can’t continue in their current vain too much longer. Already we have a $billion a day balance of payments problem and the dollar is headed for a big fall. And on top of potential dollar problems, we are headed to be the largest importer of LNG in the world now to add to that. Thus, “Phill” will just add to the problem, thus is no solution to sustainable energy for individualized transportation whatsoever.

We must stop using any fossil fuel to produce energy. We must save our limited resources for our future generations who will need them. We cannot manufacture any fossil fuel and we will surely run out of them well before the next millennium. What will be used to replace them? Nothing!! You can never replace fossil fuels; only substitute. When they are gone, they will be gone forever!
The nation's 103 nuclear power reactors produce about 22.5 percent of our electricity - reliably and economically. The risks are negligible. Yes, radioactive leaks are a possibility and some of the nuclear waste remains radioactive for thousands of years. But, most of the nuclear waste is relatively harmless and not totally useless. One of the major problems has always been public misperception. Most radioactive nuclear waste will be used by future generations for their, as yet to be designed, nuclear power plants. It is the perfect recycle of these radioactive elements. While still a dream, the new generation of reactors will recombine the atoms with the fusion process to produce the uranium that we use today in the fission reactors. We can create new fuel for the future without destroying the earth in that process.
A nuclear reactor operates somewhat like a furnace. However, instead of using fossil fuels; coal or oil, almost all reactors use uranium. And, instead of burning in the reactor the uranium fissions; that is, its nuclei split into two or more fragments. As a nucleus splits, it releases energy that is converted largely into heat. The fission of 1 pound of uranium releases more energy than the burning of 3 million pounds (1,500 tons) of coal. Stated in metric terms, the fission of 1 kilogram of uranium releases more energy than the burning of 3 million kilograms (3,000 metric tons, or 3 kilotons) of coal.
The fuel for nuclear power is uranium and the world will run out of uranium in 42 years. We need to start now to design the fusion reactors our future generations will require. And, we must do this before it is too late for us to react! Those new breeder reactors will be using fusion to recombine the fission split atoms in a phenomenon called fusion. It produces approximately 100 times the energy of fission and can save our world. So on this new year’s eve of 2003 we have much to prepare for and look forward towards.

And no we are headed for no fall. But we must act and act now! Please respond @ chuckrodgers@engineer.com.

Phill sound a good start, if not for US but for other developing countries which are highly dependent on imported oil and have indigenous gas reserves e.g. Pakistan. However the real problem for the PHILL seems to be its cost. Here in Pakistan installation of a CNG kitt would cost less than US$ 500 whereas the cost of US$1000 for PHILL seems a little unaffordable. PHILL or its economy version has a very strong market in developing countries.

Muhammad Arif
1.1.2003

This is an obvious solution which allows the use of natural gas,
1. where it is readily available at home and
2. the cost/benefit of vehicle conversion, and the home refill unit add up and
3.there are enough stations selling CNG to refill cars for longer journeys - or for city driving only a CNG home filled option could work without any refill stations.
4. regulations/safety approvals can be obtained for home refilling

The major issue I see is tax [and the incumbent fuel providers]. Auto fuels in many countries are highly taxed in some form or another, whereas gas is not - here we enjoy very inexpensive natural gas and the eqution would work well today to convert to CNG. I cannot imagine that [pricing/cost benefit equation] continuing if there were a major shift toward using CNG for auto purposes. The experience in NZ of a very succesful CNG program that fell over, is a salutory lesson.

1. Your house will blow up if PHILL develops a leak. Elctricity can't do that.
2. Who wants to use cheap CNG - only to pay a big premium for costly PHILL and the expensive car that uses it. You haven't gained anything.
3. Nuclear power is an extremely sophisticated and extremely hazardous method of generating the lowest form of kinetic energy - heat - just to make electricity. And an extremely hazardous waste product is left over to be dealt with for 1,000 years by our children. Wow! What an inheritance.
4. Residential Solar power is the only true solution. Can't beat the price. Can't pollute with it. I don't see how it would cause wars.

Chuck,

If nuclear waste is so harmless, why don't nuclear plants get fully insured?

Isn't fusion the same thing that powers the sun? Is it a good idea to unleash the power of a star upon the earth?
Aren't solar proponents indirectly pushing fusion?

Thanks for converting the same 3 million to one ratio from English to metric!

Terry M

All,

PHILL is a great way to temporarily stave off the impending fossil fuel crunch. It not a fix but a delay in the impending crisis. Its potential lies with those drivers that make many short trips and would like to avoid the gas pump. For this to work commerically it would need to be a 200-400$US option from the dealer.

Fuel cells, solar and wind power are the sources our ancestors will use one day. PHILL may only delay the process towards that end just a bit.

Regards,

David D.

Stephen H. on 01-02-03.

Come on, give an engineer some credit. Your house is less likely to blow up than if your home gas furnace, gas water heater or gas dryer gets a leak! Obviously you do not know Phill has on-board gas leak detection that shuts down any gas flow to it.

NO SMOG ON 1.6.03

Come on, give a homeowner some credit. You say "...my home gas furnace, gas water heater or gas dryer..." - You are wrong - I don't have those. My house will not blow up with gas because I don't use it. And the price of NG (and CNG) has been rising, which is diminishing its advantage. What if PHILL's gas leak detector fails ? If you don't use gas in the home it can't blow up with gas.

TERRY MEYER on 1.2.03

You said: "Aren't solar proponents indirectly pushing fusion?" Well gosh Terry, that's the way God set it up for us. The only alternative would be to move out of our solar system to a dark, frozen rock elsewhere in the universe.

Stephen,

That's what I'm saying: We already have fusion from the sun. Only if you crawl under a dark, frozen rock, will you need the power of a star (under-insured) in your neighborhood.