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.”
That is quite a nice-looking car and its great to see these innovative designs for hydrogen-powered vehicles finally set to hit the mainstream. It's promising that three of the top car companies in the world will soon make them commercially available, even if there are still challenges ahead in terms of the technology and the numbers that will reach the market are small.
@Elizebeth i agree with you that this car is really very innovative . These days every now and then we come to hear about some new technology regarding the vehicles and that is really impressive . I guess hydrogen powered vehicles will be on the beem because 3 of the major manufacturers are working in its production and launching . Just waiting and hoping for the best .
Actually I seem to recall hearing about the potential for hydrogen-powered cars for many years, and it's really good we're finally starting to see them now. I would've thought we'd be further along by now, but to change market perception and to develop viable technology takes time. These designs and the support of these major manufacturers has great promise, as you mention, Debera.
If it wasn't for Energy Sec Chu, research would be much further along. He love of pure electric and powered from the grid just about ruined the future of vehicle fuel in America. In Japan and Europe the infrastructure to support fuel cell cars has being built for a few years now. Finally, we are seeing the fuel cell once again become a serious player in research funding.
"If it wasn't for Energy Sec Chu, research would be much further along. He love of pure electric and powered from the grid just about ruined the future of vehicle fuel in America."
You do have to ask yourself which way to go for alternative fuel and more importantly why. Just to say too bad hydrogen got cut is not the reply. Is hydrogen the absolute best way to go and why. We know ethanol is not the way to go. We pushed that for a long time (other than farmers) in the wrong direction. Hydrogen has the big problem of limited resource on platinum and efficiency.
So you got:
electric->hydrogen->electric->motor for hydrogen.
electric->battery->motor for battery.
Battery can be very efficiency if you are in the middle of the charge range.
But the battery problems, and there are many, include weight to range ratio or energy density per pound and time to recharge. In trying to compete with the internal combustion engine, the all electric vehicle can't cut it for mileage between refueling, time to refuel or low temperature performance. The battery IS the issue.
Fuel cells have the potential to solve those problems for electric vehicles as might some future re-chargeable battery technology which is not here yet.
Battery does take longer to recharge than gas. However, is not an issue we cannot overcome today. Teslar showed a battery swap idea. Their cars have bottom mount battery so it can be swapped out quickly in less time than it takes to fill a tank.
Second, fast chargers are in place already. 30 minutes to charge the battery. Every 3 hours of driving you have to wait 30 minutes. Between the two solutions, there are ways around battery issue right now.
Platinum on the other hand, there are no ways around the cost right now. We are all fighting to get the little bit of platinum. We would be exchanging limited resource of oil with the more limited resource of platinum. Lithium on the other hand for batteries are plenty.
When you are making an engineering decision, you look at what you can compromise and things where there are no way to compromise, and is a deadend. Platinum is a deadend. Cost is too high. Once you hit a deadend, don't think about it, go on to another solution. Don't dwell around wasting time. Battery on the other hand is a compromise, but can be overcome.
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.
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.
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.
I know there are many people that will instantly point out what is not possible when looking at a new technology, but I'm always pleasantly surprised to see companies that are willing to put their new ideas to a road test. Even in failure, much more is learned from building a product than debating it.
I have to agree with tekochip, it is nice to see the technology put out for road testing. However, I think the plan for these manufacturers is to make a stable of zero emmisions compliant vehicles for the CA market so they can continue to sell a boatload of ICE vehicles. The EV would seem the most logical route given the number of models available. However, I think the EV line is flat lining until the battery range is extended or the charge time is significantly reduced. Therefore, the auto companies have to roll into another zero emission platform to get the numbers.
I also think this is kind of a marketing ploy. Nothing like driving something very few other people have makes people buy these things. Sort of like having the latest and greatest smart phone (though the comparison is weak, CA has lots of religous environmentalists who will spend cash on the latest and greatest).
By the way, is the fuel cell vehicle market also distorted with absurd tax subsidies? Will my tax dollar be helping people buy this car?
GTOlover, I agree with your assessment of this just being a "ploy".
I've been following the saga of the Honda Civic GX natural gas car. Honda owned a controlling interest in Fuelmaker, a Canadian gas compressor and storage system for private use, so their GX customers could refuel their cars at home while the car was parked in the garage. Inexplicably, Honda suddenly forced Fuelmaker into bankruptcy in April 2009, leaving their GX owners stranded. Some have improvised to keep their cars going, but it's been tough. If they happen to live close to a UPS depot or a PG&E CNG refueling station, they can refuel their cars there, but that's impractical for the vast number of Californians who live 30 or more miles from a refueling factility. The only conclusion I could draw from these events was that American Honda Motor Company imported and sold these vehicles in the California market for the sole purpose of barely meeting the state quota for zero-emissions and low-emissions vehicles so they could continue to sell their regular gasoline-powered vehicles.
Given the history of how Honda deceived their own loyal California customers, I would view Toyota's move into fuel cell vehicles with suspicion, especially something powered by hydrogen, for which there is no fuel distribution infrastructure whatsoever.
That's a good question about fuel cell subsidies, GTOlover. Maybe one of our readers knows the specifics. As a zero emission vehicle, I would think it would qualify for the same subsidies as today's EVs.
I'm confused, so perhaps I'm missing something here. The last time I looked it up, pure hydrogen had an octane rating of 114; perfect for a small, high compression ICE. So why not just feed the compressed hydrogen to an ICE and ignite it?
Fuel cell or ICE, it's still a zero emissions vehicle, so why is it subject to any kind of MPG target? Or is that just government logic?
It just seems that running an ICE directly on hydrogen would be more efficient than recycling it through an expenseve fuel cell to run an electric motor.
Answer to why not burn hydrogen in an engine instead of catalyst. If you burn the hydrogen, you are using heat to extract mechanical energy out of it. With heat extraction, you run into limits of thermaldynamic efficiency. Like most cars are around 20%.
With catalyst, you are extracting energy from hydrogen directly at a lower temperature without burning. Energy is in form of electricity. You skip the heat generation that results in thermaldynamic inefficiency. From electric to motor is usually up to 90% or more efficient.
Yes, the refueling infrastructure is the biggest issue for hydrogen powered vehicles. I see two economic issues. First, designing a fuel cell stack that uses a less expensive catalyst than platinum. Second, developing high efficiency, inexpensive technology to convert water and electricity into hydrogen. The latter would permit vehicle owners to produce and store their own fuel, preferrably using off peak electricity overnight to do so.
I suppose one could boost the storage and conversion efficiency of the hydrogen electric cycle by also capturing oxygen and running the fuel cell stack on pure O2 rather than relying upon ambient air supply. However, additional weight of an oxygen tank and the costs associated with safe handling might negate that approach.
It comes down to the delivery mode, energy density of the fuel and conversion efficiency into locomotion. Pick your poison!
@bdcst, the inexpensive way to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen has been around for many years, and it produces them at about ambient pressure. The expensive part is in boosting the pressure up to the level needed to fill the tanks at 5000PSI or more, while also removing the water vapor. So the whole system is complex and quite expensive. In addition, the additional power draw from the grid is no small challenge. Just like the plug-in electric vehicles, one is no problem, but when everybody on the block gets one there is a big problem.
And as for just running an ICE off the hydrogen, the problem there is the lower efficiency. Hydrogen fuel ICE vehicles have been done experimentally for many years, but they have always been excessivly expensive, and way to complex for mass production.
Now a fuel cell that could run on methane or propane directly would be a real achievement, except that it would probably need an expensive catalyst. And around this part of the country people are getting caught stealing catalytic converters every week, so I am certain that fuel cells would quickly become a target as well. which would really discourage their use.
The second slide shows where the high pressure tanks will go. Hopefully, Toyota will learn from Tesla's experience and armor-plate the underside. Otherwise, puncturing a 70 MPa tank will make the Tesla battery fires look like mere sparks.
Can'n, one thing that concerns me about fuel cells is that they use platinum. This is a material that is very expensive and not very abundant (hence the high price). It is used in catalytic converters on cars today. We already have a problem with people cutting off the catalytic converters off of cars (mostly SUVs because they are easier to get to) for the platinum. I heard on the news recently that here in Naperville we had eight stolen in one day (night). This could become another problem as it will up the price dramatically.
naperlou, fuel cell cars don't need a catalytic converter at all and what platinum they use will presumably be buried so deep inside the bodywork that it will be impractical for thieves to steal the fuel cell.
Andrew P., I am not worried about fuel cell vehicles. What worries me is current conventional vehicles. It will be a while before fuel cell vehicles will be available in any number. On the other hand, once they do become available it might still be tempting to steal them for the metals. It will have to be seen what the situation is then.
You're right, naperlou. Fuel cells will have zero effect on the 54.5-mpg mandate that's coming in 2025. For that matter, pure electrics probably won't have a big effect, either. Current conventional technology, including hydrids, will have far more impact.
Yes, platinum is expensive, naperlou. Very expensive. Even a catalytic converter, which has less platinum that a fuel cell stack, can get expensive. My son' recently spent $1,400 for a new converter and associated parts. I think the catalytic converter was worth more than the car itself.
There are lots of ideas that look "cool" until one etracts his slide rule from his rectum, so let's do so.
Hydrogen doesn't just squirt out of a hole in Texas, nor even from some country we might conquer. We have to get it by electrolyzing water. Thus hydrogen is an energy storage medium, rather than a primary source.
Electrolysis is about 65% efficient. Then you lose perhaps 10% compressing the gas, and then the fuel cell is only about 55% efficient, especially if it is made compact enough to fit under the hood. Thus the "round trip" efficiency from electricity to hydrogen and back is only about 33% (1/3). Heck, even the "good old" lead battery gets about 85%.
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.
"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.
If they assume these fuel cell cars are the future than i may suggest that they shouls launch these cars in steps at different areas and rather than seeling it give the car on rent, so that every one interested may experiment it.
Far911, i truly appreciate your concerns regarding the familarity of the hydrogen powered vehicles but no matter how familar they become people wont get it untill it becomes affordable . But i am very positive that in future these vehicles will be less expensivr and they will within the reach of many people .
Mention hydrogen baloons or airship and everyone runs for cover thinking about the Hindenberg. Mention electric cars and people run for cover because batteries caught on fire on Teslar. Now here we have hydrogen car at 10,000 psi and nobody even thinks about accidents. Hydrogen is the smallest particle in the universe. That means it escapes easily from lines and seals. They burn in air at mixture of 45% to 96%. Widest range of mixture next to acetylene. Park in a garage and leakage will collect in the roof. Hydrogen takes very low energy to ignite. 1/10 that of gas. Even an invisible static spark from a person is enough to ignite it. You are going to blow the roof off the house.
Lastly, fuel cell is unsustainable because price of platinum is already sky hight. Is a matter of time before China implement emission control after half the people suffocate just like Los Angeles in the 60's. Yup, we use to burn garbage in the backyard in LA until smog started to burn people's lungs. Once China implement emission control, there will be platinum war. Do we really want to jump from one scarce resource like oil to another even more scarce like platinum. Points to think about.
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.
A half century ago, cars were still built by people, not robots. Even on some of the country’s longest assembly lines, human workers installed windows, doors, hoods, engines, windshields, and batteries, with no robotic aid.
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