The auto industry’s fuel cell mini-trend gained a bit more momentum recently, as Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled a close approximation of the hydrogen-powered car it plans to market in 2015.
Known as the Toyota FCV Concept, the car uses a smaller, more powerful fuel cell stack than its predecessors. It is also specifically styled with large air intakes and a sweeping profile to optimize the fuel cell theme. ”From this stage to production, there might be a few additional tweaks,” Toyota spokeswoman Katy Soto told Design News. “But we are revealing it now as a close representation of the production vehicle.”
Click on the Toyota FCV Concept car below to start the slideshow.
At this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota unveiled the FCV Concept, which it says will be a close representation of the fuel cell production vehicle due out in 2015. (Source: Toyota)
The concept car, introduced at the recent Tokyo Motor Show, has a driving range of about 300 miles and a refueling time of about three minutes at 70 MPa (about 10,000 psi). Toyota said that it also uses a high-efficiency boost converter to raise the voltage, making it possible to use fewer fuel cells and a smaller drive motor. The smaller stack also leads to lower costs, Toyota said.
Toyota isn’t talking about specific dates or production volumes yet, but it is steadfastly sticking to a timeframe calling for a 2015 rollout. The giant automaker is one of three companies to recently announce. At the Los Angeles Auto Show, Hyundai said its fuel cell-powered vehicle would reach California showrooms in July and Honda announced plans to bring a hydrogen-powered vehicle to market in 2015.
Industry analysts expect production and sales of the vehicles to be small -- about 4,000 annually by 2020, according to a recent study by Navigant Research. The big roadblocks to success are high cost, particularly of platinum-based fuel cells, and lack of infrastructure.
”In reality, the only existing infrastructure is in California and New York,” David Hurst of Navigant Research told us. “So there aren’t going to be huge numbers of vehicles, in part because the vast majority of consumers couldn’t drive them if they wanted to.”
Let's think quantitatively here. First of all, hydrogen doesn't squirt out of a hole in the ground. We have to make it either by stripping a hydrocarbon fuel, or by electrolysis of water. In the former case, the carbon component is generally released as CO2, and the amount of hydrogen energy is considerably less than one would get by simply burning the original fuel in an engine.
With electrolysis, the round-trip efficiency from electricity to hydrogen and back to electricity is less than 40% if you are lucky. (Even an ordinary lead battery is good for 85%.) Hydrogen is great for welding, filling buoyant balloons, and talking in a funny voice, but not for propelling automobiles.
Fuel cell cars are essentially pure EVs, except instead of having an imperfect battery there is a small chemical plant to convert hydrogen to electricity. The infrastructure problem of lacking hydrogen fuel stations is much worse than the lack of EV charging stations for EVs and there's the question of where the hydrogen comes from. Using clean renewables to produce hydrogen is extremely inefficient, energy intensive, and therefore expensive. Using fossil fuels to do so cancels out the reasons for having FCVs in the first place.
If a breakthrough to cheap, clean, and sustainably produced hydrogen occurs (and before EV batteries become practical for the mainstream) and these little chemical factories (fuel cells) can be made reliable, safe, and affordable (a huge order), then someone please wake me up then.
Liz, the issue has been, and continues to be, cost. I believe the infrastructure would eventually spring up if the cost model were right. That hasn't happened, though, because the cost is still too high. One industry analyst recently told me that the unspoken goal in the auto industry is to get the vehicle cost below $50K.
Most electrics get less than 300 miles per charge. While a half hour charge might be fine for daily commutes, it's way too long for serious travel even with pit stops. Swapping those huge heavy batteries? If they can be dropped from the bottom of the vehicle frame they can also be damaged by collision with foreign objects as has been recently demonstrated in the real world. I can just see trying to release a battery whose, frozen under ice, clamps won't let go. And the frequently exercised high current connectors will become another point of failure especially if moisture can get in during changeovers. Just thinking about the handling and or robotics required and the drive through shelter to enclose this operation, the massive scale of parallel drive through stalls in comparison to standard gas station islands, makes me question the efficiency or efficacy of battery swapping.
"Hydrogen is great for filling buoyant balloons, welding specialty metals, and talking in a funny voice, but not for driving your car to work and back."
That would be helium, not hydrogen.
The practicality of hydrogen as a fuel for internal combustion engines was demonstrated in the 1970s and 1980s by Dr. Roger E. Billings and his Billings Energy Corporation (founded in 1972). He promoted the concept of the "hydrogen homestead", whereby solar and wind energy could be used to split water and store hydrogen under relatively low pressure in tanks containing metal hydride. Billings Energy had pretty much worked out the details of the technology that would allow an individual to live completely off-grid and produce all the hydrogen necessary to light and heat one's house, cook, and provide hydrogen fuel for one's automobile to commute to a job and run errands. As I recall, threats were made on his life and he sold the business in 1985.
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