Honda R&D Americas and Plug Power have began successful operation of their 2nd-generation prototype home hydrogen system, the Home Energy Station II (HES II). HES II is the latest evolution of a joint development effort by Honda and Plug Power to produce a home system that generates hydrogen from natural gas for use in fuel cell vehicles while supplying electricity and hot water to the home. Testing of the HES II system will be done in conjunction with demonstration of Honda’s 2005 FCX fuel cell car on public roads in the Northeastern U.S.
The HES II system contains the following elements:
A reformer to extract hydrogen from natural gas
A fuel cell unit that utilizes some of the extracted hydrogen to provide power for the system
A refiner to purify the hydrogen
A compressor for pressurizing the extracted hydrogen
A high-pressure tank unit to store the pressurized hydrogen
HES II incorporates several subsystems which utilize Plug Power’s proprietary technology and allow for a reduction in the space required for the system. Originally two separate units, the HES now combines all the elements into one smaller package that includes the natural gas reformer, hydrogen purifier, fuel cell stack, compressor, fuel storage and delivery system.
The initial version of the HES, shown in October 2003, produced hydrogen at a maximum rate of 2 normal cubic meters per hour (2Nm3/hour) with a purity of 99.99% or higher. The system had a storage capacity of 400 liters @ 420 atmospheres (425.6 bar or 6,172 psi).
Honda and Plug Power are not the first to demonstrate or to explore small-scale generation of hydrogen. Shell Hydrogen, for example, has been working with Stuart Systems on home-scale electrolyser technology. Honda, however, is establishing a pattern of developing home alternative fuel systems that tie directly to their vehicle development. Earlier this year, Honda introduced Phill, a home natural gas fueling system for CNG vehicles in conjunction with announcing its plans to begin retail sales of the Civic GX natural gas vehicle beginning in California in spring 2005. (Earlier post.)
Supporting the distributed (and presumably low-cost) generation of alternative fuels makes enormous sense for an automaker. There should be more of it. I’m eager to see further performance and cost figures on the HES II work, and to see which other automakers pick up on the idea.