Is this the hydrogen-powered car of the future?

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Toyota, the world’s biggest car-maker, unveils a new hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car which resembles the popular Corolla.

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Toyota announced the launch of a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car in the U.S. next year on Monday at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The car, which resembles the popular Corolla, is yet to be named, but like the birth of a royal child it’s the pedigree that counts — and Toyota is the largest auto manufacturer in the world. However, unlike a royal child, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles have been fighting an uphill battle against logistical, technological and economic odds since their inception.

hydrogen“For years, the use of hydrogen gas to power an electric vehicle has been seen by many smart people as a foolish quest,” Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, said at the CES event. “Yes, there are significant challenges. The first is building the vehicle at a reasonable price for many people. The second is doing what we can to help kick-start the construction of convenient hydrogen refueling infrastructure. We’re doing a good job with both and we will launch in 2015.”

Calling it the “car of the future,” Carter said the vehicle will be a zero-emission, mid-size, four-door sedan with a driving range of at least 300 miles between refueling and a fill-up time of less than five minutes. No official price tag was announced, but it is estimated that the cost will range from $50,000 to $100,000.

“We aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel; just everything necessary to make them turn,” said Carter.

Not only does this include the technology inside the car, but also the infrastructure needed for refueling.

Hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles run on hydrogen gas, making them similar to battery-only models such as the Nissan Leaf that plug-in to recharge in that they emit none of the tailpipe pollution association with burning gasoline. The only exhaust on the Toyota fuel-cell vehicle will be water vapor.

“Battery models carry electricity in their lithium-ion battery packs while fuel-cell vehicles make electricity on board in a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen,” Bloomberg Businessweek reported. “While hydrogen vehicles have a range comparable to gasoline vehicles and need only a few minutes to refuel — compared with hours for most battery autos — there are few hydrogen pumps currently open to the public.”

To be precise there are currently nine hydrogen refueling stations open to the public, all of them in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and another dozen in California that are private or for demonstration. For this reason the vehicle will initially launch in California — a state known for leading the nation in emissions standards and efficiency mandates. In 2012 the California Air Resources Board required that by 2025 one in seven new cars sold be zero-emission.

California has set aside more than $200 million to build another 20 hydrogen fueling stations by 2015 with as many as 100 possible within the next decade. Toyota has partnered with UC-Irvine to help determine the best locations for these fueling stations.

Addressing concern over the sparseness of refueling opportunities, Carter said, “Stay tuned, because this infrastructure thing is going to happen.”

South Korean automaker Hyundai also recently announced plans for a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle. Honda already has a fuel-cell car called the FCX Clarity that is available forlease primarily in Southern California.

study from last year by the firm Lux Research found that, “The dream of a hydrogen economy envisioned for decades by politicians, economists, and environmentalists is no nearer, with hydrogen fuel cells turning a modest $3 billion market of about 5.9 GW in 2030.”

While hydrogen-powered cars will not likely make a significant automobile market impact or greenhouse gas emissions dent before 2030 as once hoped, production costs are rapidly falling and infrastructure is gaining steam.

So perhaps all the past hype about hydrogen-powered cars as a major mitigator of greenhouse gases can be replaced with a realistic goal of becoming a small part of the solution as some of the hurdles are overcome.

“We estimate a 95 percent cost reduction for the powertrain and fuel tanks of the vehicle we will launch in 2015 when you compare that to what it cost for us to build the original Highlander Fuel Cell in 2002,” Carter said at the CES event.

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11 Comments
  1. juxx0r 5 years ago

    Tell him he’s dreaming. With a round trip efficiency of 20-30% you could put a kWh into a battery and drive five miles or into a fool cell and drive 1-1.5 miles. Add to that the high cost of the vehicles and an infrastructure buildout and it’s only ever going be the technology that’s always just around the corner.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      But, but, but they’re so much more techie than a simple car running on batteries.

      That should make the the winners. Just like Gen IV nuclear. It’s not cost that matters. It’s snazzz…

      • juxx0r 5 years ago

        Buy yourself an iPad Bob. 🙂

        • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

          I just got a Chromebook.

          A pox on both Bill and Steve….

          • juxx0r 5 years ago

            I don’t like you anymore Bob.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            $129 for a new laptop.

            I can live without your love…. ;o)

            I’m really impressed with the web/email stuff. And with a SSD rather than HD up and down time is blazing fast.

    • Miles Harding 5 years ago

      Couldn’t agree more.

      Tesla already offers 300 miles range (if done slowly), so it’s easy to extrapolate something like Lithium Sulfur betteries powering compact, light weight and affordable EVs capable of the same feat well inside 2030.

      Toyota is spending a lot for a few soothing soundbites.

      What should be a real laugh is that the wondrous H2 car will probably have a significant battery to make up for the low peak power of the tiny fool cell stack, so it’ll effectively be a battery hybrid vehicle with a really expensive and hard to fuel range extender. (anybody for a plug-in version?)

  2. Ronald Brakels 5 years ago

    This may just be deception on the part of Toyota. Anyone who builds a fuel cell electric car is also building an electric car. It just needs batteries installed instead of a fuel cell. So this could be Toyota’s electric car program under the pretense of a hydrogen car project in order to throw competitors off. Or they could be having a both ways bet. Or perhaps someone in power in the company has a fetish for hydrogen and the more sensible engineers beneath him (yes, I’m quite sure it would be a him) are directing his lust in the sensible direction of laying the groundwork for an all electric car. Or maybe, and this happens sometimes, long ago before it was clear that batteries would beat out hydrogen, a concensus was formed in this Japanese company that hydrogen would be the way of the future and that concensus, while obviously very brittle at the moment, has not yet shattered. The good news is that once it does shatter Toyota can turn on a dime and go full out for electric cars. There can be definite drawbacks to the way large Japanese companies can go about making decisions, but a new concensus can form unseen beneath the surface ready to take control once the old one is shattered, and the speed with which they can take a new direction has caught foreign competitors (and foreign countries) by surprise on more than one occasion.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      Toyota has recently introduced a budget EV in China that will go on sale in April.

      http://gas2.org/2014/01/09/toyota-launches-budget-electric-car-brand-china/

      • Ronald Brakels 5 years ago

        Good to hear. I presume that once its tested and the bugs worked out they will sell it, or more likely a similar model, more widely.

        • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

          I suspect this is a smart move on Toyota’s part. Demand for cars is soaring in China. The government wants to put people in EVs.

          They can take advantage of demand and a favorable environment and build volume. Use that volume to bring down costs and then expand their market.
          They seem to be going after a non-LEAF, non-Tesla S niche rather than doing the “me, too” stuff other manufacturers are trying.

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