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Fuel from your home

I was reminded of an emerging automotive trend while re-watching Woody Allen’s 1973 film, Sleeper.

I was reminded of an emerging automotive trend while re-watching Woody Allen’s 1973 film, Sleeper.

The film depicts life in 2173, and one of the more interesting appliances people have then is the Orgasmatron.

It looks like a small, round closet, and people go in there, either singularly or as a couple, to quickly and cleanly fulfill a function its name suggests.

This got me thinking about another home-based device that will also surely be part of our future — and one that even sort of looks like the Orgasmatron. Of course, I speak of home-based automotive refuelling stations.

Some examples are here already and many more are coming, because the way we energize our homes and the way we energize our automobiles seem to be converging.

In the future we will need clean power for our homes and our mobility devices; so no sense re-inventing the wheel for each application.

For example, there is no technological reason not to have a natural gas fuelling station at home. If you do it overnight with low pressure, you don’t even need tanks and compressors.

Electric cars can already be recharged on home current. In the years ahead, we’re sure to have high-voltage outlets that are designed specifically for re-charging electric car batteries.

And if you got a super green house plastered with solar panels, and have surplus electricity, you’ll want to make sure this nice, clean juice gets into your car somehow.

Lots of automakers are putting R&D money in home refueling initiatives, but none more than Honda.

It has operated an experimental Home Energy Station in Torrance, Calif., since 2003. The station uses a fuel cell to generate hydrogen from natural gas, to provide heat and electricity for the home, and for fueling a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle.

But I think Honda’s neatest such device is the MCHP (for Micro-sized Combined Heat and Power-cogeneration). It’s basically a little hybrid for your basement. Natural gas powers a small engine, that runs a generator that makes electricity (just like Chevy Volt).

The MCHP is paired with a furnace or boiler to generate heat (up to 3.26 kilowatts), and up to 1.2 kilowatts of electricity, which could displace the electricity that a homeowner would otherwise have to buy off the grid. Honda says a typical house could see a 30 percent reduction in fuel costs.

Honda has sold over 50,000 of these units in Japan since 2003, and is now selling them, for about 10 grand each, in a few states in the U.S. Northeast.

No silver bullet. But maybe another piece of the puzzle.

And now back to Sleeper, for a final thought on future technology. When our hero, Miles, is given a robot dog, he looks at it suspiciously, and then asks, “Is he housebroken? Or will he leave little batteries all over the place?”

– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for over 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.

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