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CES 2014: The future is here! Toyota’s hydrogen-powered cars are go for 2015


CES 2014: The future is here! Toyota's hydrogen-powered cars are go for 2015

Toyota is arguably the corporate that took hybrid automobiles mainstream with the Prius. Now it plans to do the identical for hydrogen-powered gasoline-cell automobiles in 2015.

So stated Toyota throughout a press adventure on the CES express in Las Vegas. However is the arena prepared for hydrogen energy? And despite the fact that it’s, does it in reality provide actual advantages on the subject of emissions? Dangle these ideas.

If Toyota pulls off its plan to launch in 2015, the brand new version would be the first mass produced gas-cell automobile, although arguably no longer the primary hydrogen-powered automobile. BMW, amongst others, has dabbled with hydrogen-fuelled combustion automobiles, together with a restricted-manufacturing Hydrogen 7 luxurious automotive.

Toyota’s plan, on the other hand, entails a gas-cell that reacts saved hydrogen with oxygen from the environment to generate electrical energy. The one different made of the response is water and therefore water vapour is a hydrogen gas-cell’s simplest emission.

Giving battery-electrical a beating

The electrical energy, in flip, energy electrical motors. So, as a using expertise, Toyota’s gas-cell automobile will probably be in the identical ballpark as current battery-electrical automobiles already on sale, just like the Renault Zoe, BMW i3, Nissan Leaf and others.

Toyota FCV

The enormous variations when compared with these electrical vehicles, then again, are the time taken to refuel or recharge and the variety as soon as topped up.

Battery-electrical automobiles can take 10 hours or extra. At highest you might be generally taking a look at minimal one hour for a full cost. As for vary, most EVs conk out at slightly over a hundred miles (Tesla’s 300-mile-ish Model S being the obvious exception). Toyota’s fuel cell car will be good for about 300 miles.

But a fuel-cell car can be refilled in five minutes or less. So, there you have it. All the benefits of a battery electric car, including no harmful emissions and pretty much zero engine noise combined with range and quick refill advantages of combustion cars.

What’s the catch?

Inevitably, there’s a snag. Well, a reasonable list of snags. The biggest problem is infrastructure. A 300 mile range and quick refuelling are all very well. But if there aren’t actually any stations offering hydrogen fuel, it’s all rather moot.

It will take years to fit out service stations with hydrogen dispensers. Similarly, you need hefty infrastructure to make the fuel itself if you’re to power 100,000s or even millions of hydrogen cars. That doesn’t happen over night.

Toyota FCV

The other big problem is one the fuel cell shares with battery-electric cars. Where does the energy come from in the first place? It takes plenty of power to produce hydrogen through methods like electrolysis.

If those methods are powered by fossil fuels, then the only net benefit is reduced local emissions. You’re effectively shifting the emissions geographically to wherever the fuel is produced. But they still end up in the atmosphere.

2015 launch

We’ll come back to that in a moment. First, is that 2015 launch window realistic? Toyota has been working on this technology since 1992, so it’s over 20 years in the making.

Much of the effort has gone into squeezing the fuel cell gubbins down to practical proportions. We’ve little doubt the car will work well.

Toyota FCV

Toyota also says technological advancements and price reductions have recently made it possible to now offer the car in greater volumes. Prices aren’t being quoted, but Toyota says it want fuel cell cars to accessible and reasonably priced.

As for the broader issue of timing, Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, USA, said, "Fuel cell electric vehicles will be in our future sooner than many people believe, and in much greater numbers than anyone expected."

Investing in infrastructure

On the infrastructure side, Toyota says the car will launch in California first. $200 million has been earmarked to build 20 filling stations in California by 2015 with a total of 40 the year after. That gives both an idea of the investment needed and a hint that a broader roll out will likely be years in the making.

But let’s assume the infrastructure works out. How do we solve the displaced emissions problem? Well, the first thing to note is that fuel cell cars probably aren’t any worse than combustion cars.

Toyota FCV

Then consider this. Any time you improve the renewable profile of your broader electricity-generating infrastructure, you get an immediate benefit from fuel cells, since hydrogen produced off the back of grid electricity and in turn fuel cell cars will have emissions footprints that reflect the root power source.

You also have the option of setting up hydrogen production facilities powered purely by renewables. You could have a plant powered by a hydro-electric dam, for instance. Or perhaps a solar-powered facility in hotter climates.

In the long run, then, hydrogen power is very likely to offer major emissions benefits. What’s arguable if whether the will to achieve that will emerge while fossil fuels remain in relatively plentiful supply.