Tank for Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel Cell Prototype
Tank for Toyota’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell Prototype

Electric vehicles may have the upper hand, for now, but will the hydrogen fuel cell be the last laugh?

Various automaker-CEOs have poo-pooed hydrogen fuel cell technology. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says “I would be very curious and interested to see competitors who say they are going to mass market the car in 2015. Where is the infrastructure? Who’s going to build it?” while Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk managed to sum it up in just one word. The efficiency and infrastructure problems aren’t easily addressed, but Toyota representatives say their hydrogen fuel cell prototype is “going to change the world.”

Toyota does start from a unique position, having pioneered the hybrid electric vehicle back when the naysayers said it could never sell. Today, the Toyota Prius itself has sold more than five million units worldwide, and the best-selling hybrid vehicles in the world are made by Toyota and Lexus. Clearly, the hybrid electric vehicle has proved far more popular than anticipated. Could the “naysayers” be wrong about the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, as well?

Toyota senior vice-president for automotive operations Bob Carter called out the “naysayers” by name, including Elon Musk, Carlos Ghosn, and Jonathan Browning (of Volkswagen). At the presentation of Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle prototype at the Detroit Auto Show, he said, “Personally I don’t really care what Elon and Carlos and Jonathan have to say about fuel cells. It’s very reminiscent of 1998, 1999 when we first introduced the Prius.”

Carter suggests that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be just as clean to run as electric vehicles, producing zero emissions and have that fun-to-drive electric motor torque. At the same time, you can refuel a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in minutes, just like a conventional vehicle, the best of both worlds. I’m cool with all that, but I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around how few hydrogen refueling stations there are out there. Maybe Toyota’s got some plan they’re keeping close to the chest, something like the Tesla Supercharger network?

Image © Toyota 

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7 COMMENTS

  1. There’s a world of difference between fuel cell cars & battery powered versions & the performance figures bare this out. The Mercedes Benz B Class F Cell has a range of 380klms [approx.236 miles] before needing refuelling & a top speed of 170klms/hr [approx.105 miles per hour] & THIS is WITH electronic limiting! I’m told it costs $20 to fill the tank & refuelling only takes a few minutes. What more needs to be said????

  2. trique024 LoneWolffe I think that a common misconception is that we need to replace huge, centralized fossil fuel power production with huge, centralized renewable power production. The key is decentralization. For example, it has been calculated world energy needs could be satisfied by *cough* less than 1.5 million square kilometers of photovoltaic solar panels (https://www.greenoptimistic.com/2013/01/25/solar-power-earth-energy-needs/) or an area the size of Alaska. by the installation of some 500,000 km2 (200,000 mi2) of photovoltaic solar panels. People think, “Wow, we’d have to cover Alaska Peru with PV panels?” not realizing that a distributed, decentralized network, including rooftop solar panels on homes and businesses, maybe roads, make it so that even the few centralized renewable power generating facilities don’t need to be that expansive.
    Updated my figures. I don’t know where I read the 1% of earth’s land surface, perhaps another post. I like how http://landartgenerator.org/blagi/archives/127 puts it. Very cool post.

  3. LoneWolffe

    Yes, I am very much fascinated with this.  Wind energy used to have so much economic draw back, as the wholesalers don’t get much $ / MWh during the late hours and night time.  Then, once demand kicks in hard for the day, the wind energy plummets….

    It really could be as simple as using wind energy at night for hydrogen production adequate for the transportation sector, and then relying mainly on solar and some base loads plants during the day for grid supply.

    Seeing as the hydrogen energy would need a 1-2 week ahead of time feedstock built up anyway, it would serve as a valuable back-up to the grid for when solar sucks, it can re-purpose extra solar power to H2 production when its peak is out of control, and can also provide extra on-demand power when needed.  A large scale fuel cell is much easier to turn on and off then a portion of a power plant, and they can be more strategically located.

  4. KurtHansen
    The most efficient electrolysis H2 generators need about 50kwh to produce 1kg of H2 (enough to run the vehicle about 75-80 miles)  Where do you suggest this 50kwh of electricity come from?

    What you’re suggesting is a perpetual motion machine, which could then just be a stationary system that cracks your tap water, and has unlimited ability to charge H2 into anything.  But it’s not quite that simple…..   Now, if you have a 50kw wind turbine, that’s another story, but there needs to be the wind energy to harvest to be able to get your electricity to crack apart the water.

    All a fuel cell does is the exact opposite of the electrolysis generator.  You cant crack the water, seperate and compress the hydrogen, and then reform it back into water and expect more energy.  In fact, it loses of lot of the power going back and forth through this process.  But that’s okay if the original source of the power is just wind…..

  5. First, I’m always disheartened when fuel cell ELECTRIC vehicles and plug-in ELECTRIC vehicles are pitted together.  There are two pathways to a zero-emission future: fuel cell and battery. Each has their strengths and their challenges. 

    Second, the discussion of a fueling network assumes that the network must match a gasoline network pump for pump. The California Fuel Cell Partnership [disclosure: I am a staff member] and its members discovered that we need 68 strategically located hydrogen pumps at gasoline stations to launch the market in California. At 100, the analyses show that there will be enough confidence in the market and that all future station funding will be fully private. The early stations will be funded with a public/private mix of funding.

  6. The hydrogen distribution issue is easily solved by changing to the “small-is-beautiful” thinking represented by Hydrogen On Demand (HOD). Most HOD systems are designed for retrofit situations –simply send the HHO gasses to a regular internal combustion engine running with the vehicle computer adjusted to not misinterpret the “lean” mixture detected by the sensors. 

    It would be a simple matter to send the HHO to an HFC instead. 

    With the new catalysts, laser sparkplugs and a host of other technologies, HOD simply sidesteps the big-energy distribution model. Of course that idea would not be popular with big energy since they’d be out of business, but hey, they can get different jobs like the rest of us! 
    HHO + HFC = synergistic liberation from any form of big energy dependence, not just from big oil.
    Check the links in the following blog I put up a while back, some of them are even from our very own Green Optimistic.

    http://martianzrus.blogspot.com/2011/04/response-to-energy-discussion-in.html

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