As a keen photographer, long driving range is important for Tadashi Ogitsu. He regularly travels from his home in California to the National Parks in the surrounding areas – sometimes a 300-mile round trip – to take photos.
Wanting to switch to a zero emission vehicle, Ogitsu, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, weighed up the pros and cons of a battery electric versus hydrogen fuel cell car, eventually deciding on the latter due to the long driving range it offered. He’s been driving his Honda Clarity Fuel Cell since April 2017.
Although the Honda Clarity has a United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) rating of 366 miles, Ogitsu tells H2 View he has nearly doubled that in a single full tank.
“My record driving range so far is 550.3 miles (880 kilometres) over about one week on my commute route. There were 11 cold starts and I did a bunch of errands such as stopping by grocery stores and the gym,” he says.
“For this one, I avoided using the highway – luckily it adds only a few minutes to my 20-minute commute – and did not use the air conditioning. It was literary ‘hot laps’.”
Other notable trips Ogitsu has made in his Honda Clarity include driving from the San Jose hydrogen station to the Santa Monica hydrogen station on the Interstate 5 without refuelling and the air conditioning on (350 miles), and driving from the Truckee hydrogen station to Mono Lake and then continuing to drive through Yosemite National Park and back to the San Raman hydrogen station.
“I think this was about 360 miles. Driving through 10,000ft high mountains was challenging! I also drove from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park from the Coalinga hydrogen station, roughly 290 miles, which doesn’t sound challenging but significant elevation gain made it difficult.”
There are currently 40 hydrogen stations in California, with more expected to open by the end of the year.
“I would like the hydrogen station network to grow faster than the current pace and go beyond California, but so far I’ve been able to do everything I was planning to do. I’m very appreciative to the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP) for that effort,” Ogitsu, 54, says.
“I think the reliability of hydrogen stations is currently an issue, but I expect that will be fixed once enough numbers of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are out there. Right now, there are only a few hydrogen suppliers, so one going down has a big impact to all the FCEV drivers around unfortunately.”
When it comes to refuelling his FCEV with hydrogen, Ogitsu says it’s not much different from fuelling a gasoline car.
“There’s a few minor things: on a wet and cold winter day, the nozzle may freeze and stick to the car. Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to release. But a newly designed nozzle, which addresses this issue, is coming to some stations,” he highlights.
“Also, the hose gets stiff after fuelling because hydrogen gas is cold (-40 degrees Celsius) and you may have to battle with the stiff hose when you put the nozzle back on the holder, which may look a little funny!”
He also tells H2 View he has no concerns about safety: “Moving a car requires similar amount of energy regardless of drive train. It is as a matter of how the energy is released. One may be faster than the others but that does not necessary means that one is more harmful than the others.”
But does Ogitsu think hydrogen can replace gasoline in California?
“Certainly! I will think that it is going to be mix of FCEV and battery electric that replace internal combustion engines,” he replies.
“FCEV will be more practical and economical for longer driving range with short refuelling time.”
“For a short commute and errands, battery electric could be excellent choice. A lot of households in California have multiple cars, so the combination of a commute tool and weekend long hauler would make sense.”
“If you could afford only one, you just have to think, how would you use a car? I like visiting remote places for my photography, so I would choose a FCEV over a battery electric vehicle.”
In part three of this exclusive three-part series, H2 View chats with the California Fuel Cell Partnership, an industry/government collaboration aimed at expanding the market for fuel cell electric vehicles powered by hydrogen. Read it here.