For years Toyota has been researching hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with the aims of bringing a production car to market in 2015. Using stored hydrogen to generate electricity to power a car, many people see hydrogen cars as ‘the car of the future’, although here at Transport Evolved we acknowledge there are some major hurdles which need to be overcome before hydrogen fuel cell cars are really a viable form of transport.
Sadly, we’re no experts on FCV technology, but Yoshikazu Tanaka is. He’s the Product General Manager of the Product Planning Group and Planning and Development Leader for Fuel Cell Vehicles at Toyota, and one of the team determined to bring a mass-market, affordable fuel cell vehicle to the marketplace within the next few years.
To coincide with the automaker’s official European debut of its FCV concept car at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, Toyota’s press corp arranged for him to answer some common questions about Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Here are just some of the questions he was asked — along with his official responses as detailed by Toyota’s PR team.
Why does Toyota consider fuel cell to be the best solution for future mobility?
‘We regard fuel cell vehicles as promising environmentally friendly vehicles of the future, with high total energy (Well-to-Wheel) efficiency. Hydrogen is an important energy resource for the future because it can be manufactured from solar, wind, and other natural energy sources. It has a higher energy density than electricity stored in a battery, and is easy to store.
‘The specific merits of fuel cell vehicles include energy diversification, zero emissions, and the same usability as current gasoline vehicles. Fuel cell vehicles have the potential to become the ultimate environmentally friendly vehicle of the future, with the capability of achieving sustainable mobility.’
Toyota began work on fuel cell technology in 1992, and will put its first FCV on the market in 2015. Can you tell us what the main issues you have had to tackle were, as well as the biggest evolutionary steps?
‘For a full-scale market launch of an FCV, the most important issue is the reduction of the fuel cell system cost and, hence, the retail price. We’ve worked on making FC systems more competitive; higher-powered, smaller, lighter and cheaper.
‘Our current FC system has a world-class output power density (3.0kW/ℓ), which is twice as high as that of our previous FCV, the Toyota FCHV-adv. Also its output power is more than 100kW, despite significant unit downsizing.
‘We designed a new fuel cell stack that allows water to recirculate within, from cathode to anode, humidifying internally and maintaining the proper moisture balance. Eliminating the need for a humidifier allowed us to simplify the structure of the fuel cell system, making it lighter, smaller and more cost-effective.
‘For a full-scale market launch in 2015, the cost of the fuel cell system will be 95 per cent lower than that of the Toyota FCHV-adv.’
What is the link today between the Toyota’s expertise in hybrid technology and the FCV? Did the hybrid expertise help you in the FCV development?
‘We regard our hybrid systems as the core component technology necessary to develop eco-cars such as the plug-in hybrid, electric vehicle and FCV. We’ve been able to readily and rapidly apply the technical know-how we’ve acquired through the development of hybrid technology to other eco-cars.
‘In the case of the Toyota FCV Concept, we have used the current hybrid system’s electric motor, power control unit and other parts and components. By using existing parts, we are aiming to both improve reliability and minimize cost.’
Do you think that a fuel cell vehicle can already match the everyday usability of a current gasoline car?
‘An FCV has the same cruising range – more than 500km – as a petrol car and needs an equally short fuelling time -approximately 3 minutes, making it every bit as convenient for day-to-day use as a current gasoline car. Also, its long cruising range makes it possible to apply FCV technology to larger vehicles such as buses and heavy trucks.’
How do you see hydrogen production evolving in the next years?
‘Hydrogen can be manufactured from a variety of natural energy sources. We should choose the most cost-effective and least CO2 emission-heavy way to manufacture it, based on the specific circumstances of each region.’
How do you see the evolution of the fuelling infrastructure?
‘Moves to introduce a hydrogen fuelling infrastructure in the United States are advancing in California. Progress is also being made in Europe, particularly in Germany and Scandinavia. Development of a hydrogen infrastructure will be essential for the widespread adoption of fuel cell vehicles, and we expect that infrastructure development to advance through the efforts of infrastructure-related industries with the support of the government.
‘Toyota will continue to develop fuel cell vehicles that can achieve high levels of consumer satisfaction, and will introduce vehicles primarily in areas where hydrogen infrastructure development is advancing. If consumer support for fuel cell vehicles can be obtained, this will provide impetus for the further development of the necessary infrastructure.’
The lack of an adequate charging network is currently handicapping Electric Vehicle development? Do you think that the FCV will have to face a similar issue?
‘Because the FCV has the same cruising range and refuelling time as a conventional petrol car, the situation is different to that in which the EV currently finds itself. In terms of FCV infrastructure development, locations of refuelling sites is far more important the number of sites. Hydrogen stations should be strategically placed in order to provide maximum coverage without needing too many stations to be constructed. So, we can state that, in Europe today, only 77 stations and over 100 next year will allow a large European territory coverage, connecting for instance Norway to Switzerland via Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Even if it is not as convenient as today’s petrol station, some 200-300km between each station is a reasonable starting point.
‘Toyota will continue to work together with governments, related companies and research institutes, and to develop fuel cell vehicles that can achieve high levels of consumer satisfaction, which would provide impetus for the development of infrastructure.’
Are there any safety issues regarding the use of hydrogen in a car?
‘The risk of a hydrogen explosion is relatively low unless the gas accumulates in a confined space. So Toyota’s basic safety concept for the hydrogen in an FCV is primarily to prevent leakage by design and material selection. In the event of hydrogen leakage, the gas is detected and the hydrogen tank main shutoff valves are closed immediately to prevent a large leak. Our design does not allow leaking hydrogen to accumulate, or come into the cabin.
‘We have conducted a variety of strict tests, including crash tests, and the safety of this system has been confirmed through them.’
Are there any specific recycling issues?
‘Regarding parts we utilize from the existing hybrid system, we will recycle them in the same way as before. We will also aim for the same levels of recycling for any fuel cell-specific components.’
What is the status of development of the fuel cell sedan scheduled for launch in 2015?
‘We are in the final stages of development, conducting all kinds of tests, on ordinary roads and in cold climates and extremely hot climates, for example. While continuing these road tests and other testing, we will persist with development until we achieve a standard that will both satisfy consumers and further improve the vehicle’s reliability.’
Will the exterior or chassis of the Toyota FCV Concept be used for the fuel cell vehicle scheduled to launch in 2015?
‘We are thinking of using the Toyota FCV Concept packaging. The Concept exterior design does take a commercial launch into consideration, however, there are design elements that are show model-specific only. As such, the FCV will not be launched just as it appears in Geneva.’
What do you think of the use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles? Do you think Toyota’s production fuel cell vehicle will be a big hit? Let us know below:
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