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The Honda Clarity and Scientific Trickery


The Honda Clarity is available as a fuel cell electric car (FCEV). That means it generates electricity from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and air — specifically, the natural air that’s all around us.

How Does the Clarity Make Electricity?

Here’s the real trick of it all: It seems like the Clarity Fuel Cell car is creating power — energy to drive the car — out of nothing. But like so many other times in life, things that seem to be “nothing” are actually quite something. Ask any mom. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she’ll say. The truth is, that family meal or professional letter of recommendation she helped you with actually took a lot of work.

So the “nothing” of the Honda Clarity is that it’s simply an electric car similar, in some ways, to the Chevy Bolt or a Tesla Model S. One exception: You don’t plug this one in. Both Toyota and Hyundai also have hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles as well.

Instead of plugging the Clarity fuel cell vehicle in, you fill the pressurized tank with hydrogen. Originally, the range between fillups was about 366 miles depending on the terrain and your driving habits. Today, Honda says the combined driving range is 360 miles. That’s still a lot of driving and totally on par with a gasoline-powered sedan. See Honda Clarity models for sale near you

As a result of the chemical process that creates electricity, the Clarity fuel cell vehicle emits only clean water vapor.

What are the Advantages of a Fuel-Cell Vehicle?

When compared to other electric vehicles, the Clarity has some advantages and disadvantages. As a car, separate from the technology that powers it, the Clarity is much nicer inside with more interior space than cars like the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf and Toyota Mirai. It feels a lot like an upscale Honda Accord in many ways.

Honda introduced the car to many automotive writers at an event in California — many of those writers commented that, based on the interior, the Clarity could be branded as an Acura and no one would question it.

The Clarity is actually the result of several experimental cars dating all the way back to the late 1990s. So around the same time DJ Kool was clearing his throat, Honda was solving the problems of the future, eventually resulting in a series of FCX vehicles. Near as we can figure, FCX means fuel cell experimental. Personally, I’m hoping to see a “V12X” on the back of some Honda or Acura very soon. That would probably mean Honda is working on a 600 horsepower V12 engine that runs on things people just don’t want, such as old banana peels, used coffee cups and every single item at a Shoney’s breakfast buffet — all with super low emissions.

While the Clarity doesn’t make 600 hp, it does feel quick. Output is 174 hp. That’s similar to the Bolt’s 200 hp and more than many other pure-electric vehicles. The Clarity’s fuel cell even has an electric turbocharger of sorts that supplies compressed air for improved performance. It also sounds kind of cool.

Honda has a rich racing heritage that continues to this day through the IndyCar Verizon series, boasting several well-known teams and drivers like Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Max Chilton. The fact that Honda has some kind of innovative, performance-enhancing tech in an earth-friendly vehicle really isn’t a surprise.

Who Else Has a Fuel-Cell Vehicle?

Both Hyundai and Toyota have FCEV vehicles. The Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai are both hydrogen-powered electric cars similar to the Honda Clarity. The Nexo stands a part because it’s an SUV. Like the Honda, the Hyundai and Toyota models are only available for sale in California. Find a Toyota Mirai for sale

But there are some notable disadvantages with the Clarity fuel cell. One is that it needs compressed hydrogen to work. Have you ever seen a hydrogen filling station? No? Well, they exist — there’s one in Burbank, Diamond Bar, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, several in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in West Los Angeles. Notice anything about all these cities? They’re all in California. Here’s a link to current hydrogen stations.

That’s the bad news — the Honda Clarity fuel cell is only available in California. Honda says the decision to sell the fuel cell version of the Clarity only in California is based solely on the availability of hydrogen fueling stations. As more stations are built, they will reassess the viability of expanding.

That’s completely reasonable. Imagine if Arizona did crazy things like not honoring Martin Luther King day or making it illegal for a donkey to sleep in a bathtub or, more specifically, insisted that all cars run on coconut cream pie — a lot of automakers would likely skip selling gasoline-powered cars in that state.

But there’ a little secret here, too: Honda has spent a lot of time and money engineering the Clarity’s fuel cell so that it fits under the hood of a normal-ish looking sedan. The entire thing has been repackaged so that it now takes up about as much space as a Honda V6 gasoline engine. Honda didn’t do all that work just so they can sell an entire car in just one state. I suspect the compact fuel cell they developed will begin powering lots of other things, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Honda is currently testing hydrogen fuel cell-powered SUVs, minivans, factories, boats or anything else that needs a clean power source.

Interested in driving a Honda Clarity fuel cell?

Here’s the basic info:

*Cars are available for lease at $379 per month. That includes 20,000 miles per year (the original price was $369 per month).

*Owners get 21 days of luxury car rental in case their travel needs take them away from Hydrogen stations.

*The high-voltage battery has an 8-year limited warranty.

*Owners get a $15,000 fuel allowance which is, essentially, free fuel for the length of the lease. Find a Honda Clarity for sale

Brian Moody
Brian Moody is an author specializing in transportation, automotive, electric cars, future vehicles as well as new, used, and certified pre-owned advice. He also specializes in liking ridiculous cars like the Buick Reatta, Studebaker Lark, and the GM A-Body wagons from the late 80s and mid-90s. Why? You'd have to ask him. Brian graduated from Cal State Long Beach and has been creating written... Read More about Brian Moody

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17 COMMENTS

  1. As much as I’d love to say good article you misrepresent the “magic”.  The power comes from the hydrogen atom (one electron one proton) passing through a membrane and leaving behind one electron.  This waste product of hydrogen ions react with the oxygen in the air to produce water and heat… as waste products.  The hydrogen does not burn to produce energy in the fuel cell.  The clarity does reclaim some of the heat for cabin comfort but it is a waste product.  Before someone claims foul consider that the heat production of an engine is closer to 1400F whereas the heat produced from a non compressed hydrogen/oxygen  reaction is around 400F.  The ONLY thing keeping the fuel cell from marketability is the lack of infrastructure as was indicated in the article.  Tesla has the correct idea to build the infrastructure needed and quit waiting.  HOnda is just being cheap and short sighted.

  2. Hydrogen is not clean. It is very inefficient to produce, and is manufactured with electricity, that is mostly generated by burning fuel 

    • It’s a work in progress. More and more efficient ways to break apart the water molecule are being developed every year. It may not be terribly economic now but it is an essential step in reaching the goal of clean energy 

    • Hydrogen is cleaner to produce, cleaner to transport, and cleaner to use than any amount of petroleum based fuel.  Solar cells and water is all that is needed.  1.34V to sever the bond between hydrogen and oxygen.  Less if you use saltwater or urine.  Urine would actually yield an additional 4 hydrogen atoms from the urea.  In addition, the hydrogen does not require a city sized processing plant to reform the fuel.  It can be done with a desktop sized reformer.  

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