IMAGE: HONDA FUEL CELL CAR
Honda Motor Co. via Reuters
Honda's latest fuel cell concept car makes a test run Sunday in Haga, Japan. It has a smaller fuel cell stack yet its driving range is 30 percent longer than before.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/25/2006 12:10:44 PM ET 2006-09-25T16:10:44

Honda Motor Corp. on Monday announced environmental engineering improvements on three fronts: a fuel cell system that’s smaller but provides a longer driving range than before, a diesel engine that it says is as clean as gasoline, and a flex-fuel system allowing ethanol to be used with gasoline.

Honda’s new FCX fuel-cell car now has a driving range of 354 miles -- a 30 percent improvement from the 2005 model. Its maximum speed is 100 miles per hour, and it can be driven in temperatures as low as -22 F.

Honda plans to begin marketing the car in limited numbers in 2008 in Japan and the United States. It declined to give a price for the vehicle.

Like other fuel cell vehicles, the new model runs on the power produced when oxygen in the air combines with hydrogen that’s stored in the fuel tank — producing only harmless water vapor.

Old-style fuel cell stacks, the main part of the fuel cell vehicle, are usually placed under the floor of a car, making for thick floors and a box-like look.

Honda’s new fuel cell stack is 20 percent smaller and 30 percent lighter than the one it developed in 2003, and can sit in between the driver and passenger’s seats in the front, where the stick shift lies in a regular car.

“Way out in the future, the ultimate green car will be fuel cell vehicles,” Honda Chief Executive Takeo Fukui told a news conference. “But in the meantime, you need a wide range of green technology to meet varying local needs and fuel supply.” 

With that in mind, Honda said it also developed a flexible fuel vehicle system that can operate on any proportion of ethanol to gasoline between 20 percent and 100 percent. That car will be sold in Brazil, the biggest market for ethanol-based vehicles, later this year.

Diesel in U.S. by 2009
As for diesels, Honda said it has developed a new and simple diesel powertrain that is as clean as gasoline-fuelled cars, unveiling plans to mount it on a car for the U.S. market by 2009.

Diesels are growing in popularity in Europe and some other parts of the world because of their fuel efficiency, and automakers have been working on technology to reduce diesel emissions as nations toughen environmental standards.

Honda said its new engine meets standards applied in California, the world’s most stringent.

The key to Honda’s diesel innovation is the catalytic converter attached to the engine. Honda used an ingenious way to generate ammonia — a substance that can turn harmful nitrogen oxide into harmless nitrogen.

Diesel engine systems already use ammonia to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. But Honda’s system is self-sustaining and more efficient than others, company officials said.

Fukui said Honda is serious about fighting global warming and reducing pollution. “Honda believes in the importance of keeping a creative spirit and upholding high ideals,” he told reporters.

Honda engineers said the technology is superior to a process pioneered by Germany’s DaimlerChrysler because the latter requires a complex system and heavy add-ons to generate ammonia from urea-based additives.

DaimlerChrysler, which along with Volkswagen already sells diesel cars in the world’s biggest auto market, is preparing its next-generation diesel car for a 2008 launch.

Honda acknowledged that some technical hurdles remain.

The system would need fine-tuning for the wide-ranging indexes of diesel fuel found in the United States. Honda also needs to develop technology to measure emissions levels according to U.S. On-Board Diagnostic System requirements.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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