Fuel cell cars.
The Toyota Mirai.
You may have heard about it – but how much do you know?
Do the test. Impress your friends in the pub with below 26 buzzwords. And become a true hydrogen genius.
*A*ll around us
Remember the periodic table from chemistry class? Hydrogen (H) is on the far left, top row. It is the most common atom to be found in the universe. You’ll find it in water, H20, for example. But as in water, H bonds to other chemical elements. That means we need ways to isolate it if we want to produce pure H2 hydrogen fuel.
Fuel cell vehicles have batteries. A nickel-metal hydride battery to be precise. The battery is very useful as it stores the energy that is released when you decelerate or brake. That energy is then used to boost the performance of your car every time you accelerate. At lower speeds, when parking for example, the car runs on the battery alone. It is the same principle that applies to all Toyota hybrid cars.
Hydrogen-powered cars are no oddities. They are available on the market today. In fact, sales of Toyota’s fuel cell car, called Mirai (Japanese for ‘Future’), started back in December 2014. The Toyota Mirai has an extremely advanced powertrain, using a new type of fuel. Still, the Mirai is a regular mid-size, four-door sedan that is every bit as practical, safe and easy to drive as a conventionally powered family car. In the end, you would almost forget you have to put hydrogen in it…
It’s comforting to know that in the event of a natural disaster that affects energy supply networks, a fuel cell car can come to the rescue. Especially in regions that are typically affected by natural disasters, like earthquake struck Japan. The car’s fuel cell stack can be used to supply energy to power home essentials for up to a week in an emergency. Think of it as having an electric generator enclosed in your garage when you have six feet of snow and 30° below outside …and zero emissions to worry about on the inside.
With all the current attention on electric vehicles, you could almost forget that the fuel cell car is an … electric vehicle. The wheels are driven by the electricity generated by the fuel cell stack. The only difference with a battery powered electric vehicle (BEV) is that the electricity is generated inside the vehicle instead of being taken from outside the vehicle. How? See F(uel cell stack).
*F*uel cell stack
The fuel cell stack is at the heart of the car. It’s where the magic happens. In goes the hydrogen and oxygen, out comes the electricity to power the wheels (with only water vapour at the tailpipe as an emission).
For the more scientifically inclined: A fuel cell converts the energy stored in the hydrogen to electricity by using an electrolyte, which separates the hydrogen’s protons and electrons to create a stream of electrons (electricity). The fuel cell’s electrochemical process creates water and heat as by-products rather than greenhouse gases.
Hungry for more information? Look at this video and see the magic happening before your eyes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSxPkyZOU7E
The environment wins when we create electricity from renewables such as solar, wind and hydropower instead of fossil fuels. We all know that. However, what needs to be very carefully monitored is the balance between demand and supply. Sunny days generate a lot of electricity at a time when there might not be an immediate demand for it. This causes peaks and imbalances in the electricity grid.
Hydrogen is a very promising energy carrier as it can store this electricity surplus that is not immediately used. This type of hydrogen produced from renewables is called green hydrogen. Ideally, we should move to 100% green hydrogen in the future.
*H* or H2?
Bear with us; this gets a bit more technical. Hydrogen (H) is the simplest and most common atom known to exist. But as H is an element that can’t exist by itself, it will always combine with another element in order to be stable. Water (H20) is such an example. So when we need H2 to fuel the car, we need to combine 2 hydrogen elements. Read P(roduction) to see how that happens.
*I*ntellectual property (patents)
In 2015, Toyota did something unprecedented. Rather than keeping our 20-year investment and built up know-how in-house, we announced that we would share ALL of our 5,680 Hydrogen-fuel-cell-related global patents with interested parties. Royalty-free.
Approximately 1,970 licenses are related to the fuel cell stack, about 290 to the high-pressure hydrogen tank and about 3,350 to the fuel cell system control technology.
Japan has the largest number of hydrogen stations in operation in one single country. The island currently has around 100 stations, with many more planned in the future. Why is Japan making large investments in a future hydrogen society? The country pays a high cost to import most of its energy and is eager to become more self-reliant. And the need to explore alternative energy sources has accelerated since the Fukushima incident.
Toyota Mirai’s fuel cell stack has a world-leading volume power density of 3.1kW/L. This figure is the result of dividing 113 kW (the energy that the fuel cell stack produces) by 36.5 litres (the volume of the stack). Is that any good? Well, it’s an indicator about the size of the fuel cell stack. We have managed to come up with a more compact, lighter fuel cell stack with improved performance. And one that can easily be mounted underneath the floor of a sedan, thanks to its reduced size.
Did you know hydrogen can be produced from practically anything – even bullsh*t? No kidding. Watch this YouTube movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pTluy9KpYU. The process of splitting water (H2O) into its atomic components, hydrogen and oxygen, is called ‘Electrolysis’ -> see P(roduction).
The Mirai is the name of Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle. It means ‘Future’ in Japanese. Fuel cell cars emit zero emissions when driving, so we believe that these cars are a promising technology (not only for cars) for the future. In order for these cars to become mainstream – just like Toyota’s hybrid vehicles – they have to be made affordable. Fuel cell system costs have decreased by 95%, compared to the Mirai’s predecessor; the 2008 FCHV-adv. Components are smaller, lighter, more efficient and cheaper to produce in volume. The system also shares many common parts with our hybrid models, including the electric motor. This saves cost and increases reliability.
*N*etwork in Europe
It is true that we are in the early stages of developing a network for making, distributing and selling hydrogen fuel. However, this network is growing every day. When the Mirai was launched in Europe in 2015, 40 refuelling stations were available in European countries. By 2020, there will be an estimated 200 stations and by 2025, this number will be closer to 1000. As well as securing a good number of sites, it is important that these are strategically located, serving major cities and the principal routes that link them.
Humans need oxygen, and so does our Mirai. The airborne oxygen is “breathed” in, combines with the hydrogen in the fuel cell stack, and produces the electricity needed to power the car.
The development of the fuel cell and this reaction is attributed to Sir William Robert Grove in 1842.
Hydrogen fuel can be obtained from many different sources that are in plentiful supply. In Europe, most hydrogen used for mobility is currently produced from steam methane reforming (which uses natural gas as the source material) or from electrolysis (that produces hydrogen out of water). It is already possible to use renewable sources, such as solar, wind or hydro power for the electrolysis process.
This is key to ensure the “well to wheel” carbon performance of hydrogen is excellent. For example, in Denmark, almost all hydrogen used for mobility, is produced from renewable sources. This ‘green’ type of hydrogen production is already present in Germany while other EU countries are expected to adopt it in the coming years.
*Q*DR (Quality, Durability and Reliability)
Toyota is famous for its quality. The same goes for the Mirai. The engineers have spared no effort and put the fuel cell car through a challenging 200,000km endurance test. 14 engineers drove the Mirai for 254 days, 16 hours/day on city streets, motorways and country roads. The car had to weather temperatures going from 37 to minus 20 degrees Celsius, with no report of start-up problems. Conclusion? There were no mechanical breakdowns. The car underwent normal maintenance and operated with 100% reliability. Only the brake discs were replaced once and brake pads three times.
*R*efuelling & *R*ange
Refuelling is similar to conventional cars. It takes between three and five minutes. It is clearly one of the benefits of choosing a fuel cell vehicle. Range: It will go as far as a similar size petrol car on a full tank of hydrogen.
We believe that there are great environmental and social benefits to be secured from building a future society based on using CO2-free hydrogen and renewable energy sources. This forms an important part of our long-term Environmental Challenge 2050 and our desire to create true harmony between society and nature.
Hydrogen is a clean, efficient means of producing electricity that is not vulnerable to fluctuations in supply. As well as creating no CO2 emissions when used, hydrogen fuel also has a higher energy density than batteries and is easy to transport and store. It can be used not only for powering vehicles (private cars, buses, trucks, taxis, forklifts, trains and even planes) but homes and factories as well.
Here is a fact: a single company can never be successful in building the future hydrogen society on its own. That is why Toyota joins cross-industry consortiums to promote actively the development and commercialization of the hydrogen and fuel cell sectors. Members are key stakeholders, such as policy makers, business and hydrogen players, international agencies and society as a whole.
The 13 founding members of the ‘Hydrogen Council’ are leading energy, transport and industry companies determined to position hydrogen among the key solutions of the energy transition.
b*U*s, tr*U*cks & other (heavy d*U*ty) units
Let us not mislead you into thinking that hydrogen is only being used as a fuel in passenger cars. In fact, more than 50 million tons of hydrogen are being used globally in industrial applications on a yearly basis. Thus, it is well established. Looking at the auto industry, Toyota is experimenting with trucks, buses and forklifts.
In Los Angeles we’re testing a fuel cell heavy-duty truck to move cargo around the port. Forklifts are another application that can fully rely on hydrogen: Toyota is testing a few units at a plant in Japan, and aims to deploy around 180 units by 2020. And more than hundred Toyota fuel cell buses will take you around the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
H2 is the lightest substance in the universe. Scientists call it ‘highly volatile’ (contrary to what many people think this doesn’t mean it is dangerous). In fact, the volatile characteristic of H2 makes it very safe. As it is lighter than air, hydrogen rises and dissipates very rapidly, up and away from any ignition source. Unlike traditional gases and their vapours, hydrogen does not collect under and around a vehicle in case of a leak due to a crash for example.
With regards to the hydrogen tank in the car, take a look at this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVeagFmmwA0 What do you see? Exactly. We fired bullets at the tank in an attempt to try to pierce it on purpose, but nothing happened. Thanks to the carbon fibre reinforced plastic material used, the hydrogen tank’s structure remains intact. The gas merely escapes through the hole and quickly and harmlessly disperses into the atmosphere.
*W*orld Green Car of the Year 2016
We shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back too much, but in all fairness we must admit that we feel honoured when others – especially media – recognize our efforts by declaring the Toyota Mirai ‘2016 World Green Car of the Year’. At the New York International Auto Show, a jury of 73 international automotive journalists from 23 countries chose the Toyota Mirai from an initial entry list of eight new vehicles from all over the world.
OK, let’s get back to work now. To produce even more ‘ever better cars’.
NOx is the generic term for ‘nitrogen oxides’, like nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). It’s one of the harmful emissions coming from the combustion of conventional fuels in a car engine. NOx contributes to the formation of smog and acid rain. Large cities around the world are implementing measures to ban emissions such as NOx from city centres to fight worsening air pollution.
If you’re driving a fuel cell vehicle, such as Toyota’s Mirai, you do not have to worry about being banned from city centre driving. The car does not emit NOx nor any other harmful emissions. You will only leave a trail of water vapour coming from the car’s tailpipe 😉
We are often asked why Toyota is investing in fuel cell cars rather than in electric cars? We don’t think one is better than the other. And we are investing in both. We feel battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) are complementary as they serve different mobility needs from the customer.
BEVs are better suited for short distances in an urban environment. Downtime is still an issue due to long charging times – even with a supercharger it takes 20 minutes or more. So is range anxiety. With FCEVs fuelling only takes 3 to 5 minutes and you can cover long distances, on a par with a conventional petrol car.
Could we end on a more positive note? Fuel cell electric vehicles are fully zero emission cars when driving.
(For the sake of completeness, you may want to know that water vapour is coming out of the tailpipe. Around 70ml/km if you really want to know. And yes, the water is so pure you could drink it – we wouldn’t recommend it though as the water has been running through the car’s pipes after all …However, some do…).
For the third consecutive year, Toyota and Lexus vehicles recorded the lowest average of CO2 emissions in the French market in 2014.
According to CO2 emission figures of all new vehicles sold in France in 2014*, Toyota and Lexus vehicles emitted the least CO2 – 105g/km in average. (see the bar chart below: average CO2 emissions by manufacturer)
This is the third consecutive year that Toyota and Lexus topped this ranking.
This week our Toyota Motor Manufacturing France (TMMF) plant has harvested 38kg of its own honey for the first time and offered it to employees.
A few days ago we got some new colleagues in Toyota Motor Europe (TME). Why is this a news? Because they are a bit different…
Remember we are currently running a Green Month Campaign and within this action 2 insect hotels were installed in the green areas of our offices. Slogan for this year is “Preserve & enhance nature for the future”.
The 2015 Green Month slogan is made up of two parts: preserving & enhancing nature. So what does this actually mean:
In order to preserve nature, we first needed to understand what we had on our sites. After a thorough investigation we realized:
- There are over 200 species on our sites
- There are many biotopes (or habitats) which give great potential to enhance biodiversity
- The biotopes show a dynamic interaction between species.
We can now move towards enhancing biodiversity on our sites. In this step, two insect hotels have been put up.
Following expert advice Toyota is concentrating on supporting wild and solitary bees as a priority, so we are establishing insect hotels to provide shelter and nesting sites. We are increasingly making our sites more friendly to these insects by allowing more natural / native flowers to complete their flowering and seed making cycles which, in turn, provide food and nectar for insects.
And as we wanted to treat our guests well we have asked Natuurpunt experts for advice how to position them (no, it was not PR who decided where to put them!)
Whilst we considered installation of beehives for TME sites, for the purposes of biodiversity enhancement an insect hotel is better than a bee hive. Further, TME sites and neighbouring territory do not have enough food for a beehive which can typically go up to 50,000 individual bees.
Many more activities and projects are planned in the future for making Toyota Motor Europe a more colourful and biodiverse environment. We’ll keep you posted!
2015 marks the 12th year that we support the Green Month Campaign. First started in Japan in June 1973, today it’s a Global environmental awareness campaign across all Toyota activities and entities.
Industrial water is used for all production processes in vehicle manufacturing. Next to energy and waste, it is one of the biggest environmental impacts we have in the automotive industry.
Toyota awarded the most environmentally friendly brand in 2015 in Germany’s largest survey of fleet customers
‘Mirai’ may mean ‘Future’ in Japanese, but Toyota’s first mass production fuel cell car has origins as far back as the mid-nineties. That is when the Japanese manufacturer laid out a strategy that was aimed at guaranteeing sustainable mobility for the 21st century.
Toyota’s goal was threefold. First, to improve overall efficiency, allowing drivers to do more with less. Secondly, to diversify the energy sources used to propel cars, in order to reduce dependence on dwindling oil reserves. And finally, to reduce the environmental impact of personal mobility.
Hybrid is the cradle
To this day, the most legendary heir of that strategy is the petrol-hybrid Prius. By combining a petrol engine with an electric motor, the concept behind Prius was as simple as it was ingenious. On the one hand, the car was able to recapture energy that traditionally goes to waste under braking, and store it in a compact on-board battery. And on the other hand, this battery fed an electric motor that could step in to support the engine, reducing its thirst for fuel. Through a clever gearbox, the system allowed petrol and electric to work in perfect symbiosis, and even permitted the engine to run as often as possible in its most efficient rev-range. Any surplus power was simply turned into electricity and sent to the battery.
Seen by many at first as little more than an oddity, Prius and its powertrain gradually won fans. Technology lovers chose it for its high tech content, environmentalists for the greener form of transport that it promoted. And when the rich and famous embraced it and started selecting it over the luxury barges and supercars that they preferred in the past, awareness and appreciation rocketed.
Today, hybrid technology has found its way into various other models of the Toyota range. One in three Yaris sold in Europe today is hybrid and the same goes for 40% of all Auris. Nor is Toyota longer alone as a hybrid manufacturer: in recent years, other brands have started to follow suit – including some of the brands that had been highly critical of the technology at the beginning.
Battery electric vehicles for last mile mobility
Less well known, is that Toyota’s plans extended much further. Its strategy placed hybrid at the heart of the future car market, but it also foresaw a clear role for electric vehicles. Having invested in battery research in its own Physical and Chemical Research institute founded as far back as 1940, Toyota didn’t hold out much hope for a sudden break-through in batteries that would suddenly make EVs a valid mass-market alternative for the regular family car. However, it did see opportunities for small battery-powered vehicles as an alternative for urban, last-mile mobility. In such usage, driving range is less of a priority, so the battery pack can be kept compact and light, in itself helping efficiency. The latest personification of this concept is the Toyota i-Road, which is deployed in pilot car-sharing programmes in Japan and in the French city of Grenoble.
Fuel Cell for high mileage vehicles
At the other end of the scale, for large vehicles designed for long distance travel, Toyota started researching Fuel Cell technology. Using hydrogen as a source for on-board electricity generation yielded a very different type of electric vehicle: one that was not limited by range or by recharging time.
In the subsequent development of EVs and Fuel Cell cars, Toyota relied heavily on the architecture it had devised for its hybrid powertrains. The principle of energy recuperation was applied to both vehicle types, whereas the hybrid concept was adopted in its entirety for the Fuel Cell prototypes. Here, the petrol engine from a traditional hybrid was simply replaced by a Fuel Cell stack, and the petrol tank by hydrogen tanks.
Today, after more than fifteen years of development, Mirai’s basic architecture borrows from that of the very first Prius. And several parts of its powertrain, such as the motor and the traction battery, are proven components that are shared with other Toyota hybrids.
Going forward, Toyota Fuel Cell cars can be expected to continue to benefit from the company’s ever strengthening expertise of hybrid technology.
This week, the Motomachi-plant in Toyota City starts mass production of the Toyota Mirai fuel cell car. A historic moment for Toyota, which also underlines the expertise and the know-how off the work-force at this Toyota City based plant.
Today, the plant employs approximately 7000 workers, most of them
involved in the production of models for the Japanese market, such as the Crown and the Mark X.
But since 2008, a small unit of highly skilled employees is assigned tospecial projects that require a lot of care, acting as pioneers within Toyota’s production workforce. This is the team that built the limited-run Lexus LFA supercar, and now, they have turned their attention to the Toyota Mirai.
They have a dual role: supplying the first mass-produced fuel cell car and gathering experience for future generations of the Toyota hydrogen-powered models.
The first months of Mirai production are destined for the Japanese market, but as from summer 2015, Motomachi will also start churning out cars for Europe and the US.
Toyota’s pioneering hydrogen-powered fuel cell car, the Toyota FCV Concept, will have its world debut at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show starting November 20. Don’t worry if you can’t make it, we’ve got all the juicy bits after the break. Click through to find out.