Innovative, disruptive, avant-garde. In the automotive industry, these terms refer to manufacturers like Tesla, Lucid and Rivian, not Honda. Honda is the 60-year-old sedentary brand that makes affordable cars for ordinary people. But that image hides a series of innovations that began with its original CEO, Sochiro Honda.
It was Sochiro Honda who said “listen to the youngsters” when making cheap mopeds like the Honda SuperCub. It was he who, when the Big Three said “reducing pollution by 90% is impossible”, introduced the first CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) engine, a fuel-saving innovation that would level the playing field game for Honda in the United States, just as electric vehicles and connectivity are leveling the playing field today.
Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe and brand manager (now head of electrification and North America negotiations) Shinji Aoyama don’t see modern Honda as pushing the boundaries. They are just following the legacy of Sochiro, who said, “We must possess the will to challenge difficulties and the wisdom to create new values without being bound by established norms. We do not wish to imitate others.”
“I’m not sure about the word disruptive. But our thinking hasn’t changed,” CEO Mibe said. Newsweek during a roundtable interview opportunity at the company’s offices in Tochigi, Japan. “Our aspiration remains the same in that we would like to be a leader. We want to be the leader in future mobility with our technology, that thinking has remained consistent.”
A question later, Mibe dutifully listed all the ways Honda is be disruptive in all mobility spaces, including the sky.
“So of course electric cars are one way, but of course we want to get into electric motorcycles. And we’re now developing the eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing passenger plane). power to offer carbon neutral products also for marine applications,” Mibe said. “We want to be able to cover the sky, the ocean, and all the land as well.”
Honda may seem visibly late to the electric vehicle (EV) party, but between its partnerships with Sony, GM and battery maker LG ES, it has irons in the fires all over the world. And he does not consider himself behind anyone.
“Five years ago, our strategy was for the activity to be established mainly around hybrid technologies by 2013. That was what we anticipated. Over the past five years, battery electric vehicles have made progress in Europe and the United States,” Mibe said.
“Still, if you look at it from a customer’s perspective, battery electric vehicles are not as practical as current hybrids. However, given carbon neutrality and the current political situations, we already have this momentum for battery electric vehicles. In this context, we could be seen as somewhat behind the times. But our goal is to achieve carbon neutrality. It’s not to make electric vehicles,” he said. -he declares.
To that end, Honda’s biggest innovations are being developed with its carbon capture technologies, including a microalgae called Dreamo, its solid-state batteries that will be ready for production before the end of the decade, and its new energy storage solutions that can perform small equipment battery swaps. as simple as refueling a lawnmower.
Starting with carbon capture, Honda has the Dreamo microalgae which eats carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. It is self-replicating and requires very little work, says Honda. It can withstand temperatures even below freezing, but must be placed near a source of carbon dioxide to be most effective.
To get this CO2 into the algae, Honda has created a carbon capture device and is currently scaling it. The direct air capture system captures CO2 from the atmosphere, concentrates it, then combines it with hydrogen to produce e-fuel or feeds it directly into algae.
Carbon enters at 0.04%, uses CO2 absorbing material and repels it at 95% CO2. This can be mixed with a catalyst for fuel, or sent to Dreamo algae tanks to make biofuel, bioplastics or food and dietary supplements. Excess can be permanently stored in old oil wells while liquid CO2 can be safely stored by mixing it with calcium.
Honda says it plans to store 10 kilograms of CO2 this year using direct capture, 10,000 kg next year and 100,000 the following year. Everything must be recycled.
“Our goal is not to replace internal combustion engines with batteries. Our goal is to achieve a carbon-neutral world by 2050. The circulation of resources is key,” Aoyama said. Newsweek. “We have to replace many of our components with sustainable or recyclable materials. But after that, in 10 or 15 years, we will have to recycle that. We have a lot of things to do.”
Moving to solid-state batteries (SSB), Honda wants to be one of the first to use the technology in a commercial automobile and it will complete its pilot assembly line for them in the spring of 2024. The line is rising in search of its Sakura center , and Honda said it would be open to sharing the technology with other automakers. It has a current partnership with General Motors on a few electric crossovers, but solid-state batteries aren’t part of the deal.
Solid-state batteries do not use a liquid electrolyte to transport lithium ions, but rather a film layer of solid electrolyte. Solid-state batteries are more stable than liquid batteries because the liquid is flammable at high temperatures. SSBs charge faster than lithium-ion batteries, require less safety equipment, and retain a higher charge. Their production currently costs about eight times more than a liquid battery, but the technology is progressing in its development. If all goes according to plan, SSBs will soon be in many new electric vehicles.
“It will help compared to current batteries. It will help reduce weight and it will be very effective for vehicles like the Type R, as well as for motorcycle applications. This solid state battery would probably be a kind of center of technology for the future EV,” Mibe said.
Aoyama covered a bit, noting that while Honda learns from its joint ventures, with GM and battery maker LG Energy Solutions, there’s still time to decide where to put its money.
“At the end of the 2020s, we will have to follow the evolution of the SSB, and then if it goes well and we have good prospects, that’s where we will make the next big investment. If the prospects are not doing well, then we would reinvest in lithium-ion. That decision can wait about two years,” he said.
Honda is also increasing its stake in the small passenger aircraft market. The company has marketed the Honda Jet since 2003 (a new version was just announced in October 2022) and is now working on electric and hybrid VTOLs for short and medium-haul flight. VTOL stands for vertical takeoff and landing.
The VTOL has eight high-mounted rotors and can travel about 60 miles on just one battery. It could be used for intercity and intracity flights, Honda says, even as an ambulance. However, taking a more “realistic” approach, Honda will also create a hybrid version with an on-board generator.
The hybrid version could travel about five times the distance of the electric VTOL, or about 300 miles, and would also run on aviation fuel created by the company by sequestering carbon. Honda will start testing eVTOL in 2023, but noted it still has a lot of regulatory hurdles to clear.
Future technology batteries, single-cell carbon-capturing organisms, electric flying helicopter passenger drones. They look like something out of Elon Musk’s diary. But that’s Honda’s thing, innovating quietly behind the scenes, delivering the technology buyers will use tomorrow while selling them the technology they want today.
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