Market News

 September 28, 2006
Honda to build clean diesel and flex-fuel autos

 Tokyo, Japan (GLOBE-Net) -- Honda Motor Company has announced several technology advances for low emission and alternative fuel vehicles. These advances will make diesel engines burn as cleanly as gasoline, commercialize hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2008, and allow 'flex-fuel' cars to burn ethanol-gasoline blends.

The technologies are all part of Honda's strategy to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from all its products. Most major auto manufacturers are now pursuing development of technologies such as hybrid engines, alternative fuel vehicles, or hydrogen fuel cells. On-road transportation vehicles accounted for 18.45 percent of total Canadian greenhouse gas emissions in 2004.

While emissions from gasoline automobiles have actually decreased by 7.4 percent since 1990, emissions from other on-road sources have increased. Emissions from light-duty gasoline trucks have jumped by more than 100 percent, reflecting the increased use of sport-utility vehicles, while emissions from light-duty and heavy-duty diesel trucks have increased by 51 percent and 83 percent, respectively.

With that in mind, the development of cleaner transportation technologies that allow individuals and businesses to enjoy a multitude of transportation options without causing excessive environmental harm, is a key priority.

New 'clean diesel' engine

Honda's next-generation diesel engine reduces exhaust emissions to a level equal to a gasoline engine. It employs a world-first nitrous oxide (NOx) catalytic converter that uses two levels: one adsorbs NOx from the exhaust gas and converts a portion of it into ammonia, while the other layer adsorbs the resulting ammonia and uses it in a reaction that converts the remaining NOx in the exhaust into nitrogen (N2).

According to Honda, the process allows diesel engines to meet the stringent 'Tier II Bin 5' emission regulations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Fuel cell vehicles by 2008

Honda has also announced that limited marketing of a totally new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle based on its FCX Concept fuel cell vehicle will take place in Japan and the United States in 2008.

The FCX Concept features a V Flow fuel cell platform consisting of a compact, high-efficiency Honda Fuel Cell Stack arranged in an innovative center-tunnel layout. The new fuel cell stack is 20% smaller and 30% lighter than the current FCX FC Stack, yet its power output is 14kW greater. Overall, the power plant is about 180kg lighter than that of the current FCX and about 40% smaller in volume, resulting in improved energy efficiency and performance along with a more spacious interior.

The hydrogen and water formed in electricity generation now flow vertically, instead of horizontally as in previous models. This allows gravity to assist in discharging the water that is produced, resulting in a major improvement in water drainage, key to high-efficiency fuel stack performance.

Low-temperature start-up has also been improved, enabling cold-weather starts at temperatures 10°C lower than the current FCX - as low as minus 30°C. As an auxiliary power source, the FCX Concept carries a high-efficiency lithium ion battery, contributing to increased power output and a more compact power plant.

Overall, the new concept car has a travel range approximately 30% greater than the current FCX, and has an energy efficiency of around 60% - approximately three times that of a gasoline-engine vehicle, twice that of a hybrid vehicle and 10% better than the current FCX.

Other features include seat upholstery and door linings made from Honda Bio Fabric, a plant-based material that offers outstanding durability and resistance to sunlight damage.

Flex-fuel vehicles for Brazil

Honda has developed a flexible fuel vehicle system that allows gasoline-based power plants to operate on either 100% ethanol or a range of ethanol-gasoline fuel mixtures.

The technology resolves previous issues with variations in the ratio of ethanol-to-gasoline that affected low-temperature start-up performance and caused variations in air-fuel ratio and engine output.

The Honda system adapts by estimating the concentration of ethanol based on measurements of the vehicle's exhaust gas. This allows the engine to adapt to ethanol-to-gasoline ratios of between 20 percent and 100 percent.

Honda will begin sales of the flex fuel vehicles in late 2006 in Brazil, where ethanol produced from sugar cane is a major component of transportation fuel. Ethanol blends of 20 percent or higher are not yet common in North America, though they may become so in the future.

Suppliers will be pressed to provide gasoline vendors with enough ethanol to meet the 5 percent Renewable Fuels Standard set by the Canadian government for 2010, and a similar standard in the United States. While E85, an eighty-five percent ethanol blend, is becoming more popular in the United States, it is still uncertain whether or not a market similar to Brazil will develop for high percentage ethanol blends, or whether a blend of ten percent or less will be the norm.