Posts Tagged ‘fuel cells’

Toyota Debuts Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Prototype to the Press

Posted by Stephen On Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Toyota FCV-R Concept

Last week, Toyota held a media-only event to show off its new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle prototype. In case you’ve forgotten, the finished production model of Toyota’s first ever FCV is set to launch next year as a 2015MY, and this prototype is one of the few peeks we’ve had at what to expect.  It’s the result of years and years’ worth of work for Toyota, and as you continue reading you’ll learn everything about their upcoming FCV that can be learned from this prototype debut.

The most significant new development is a hint towards the final FCV’s design.  We now know that the car will be a sedan built on the same chassis as was previously used by the Lexus HS 250h, which is now only available in Japan as the Toyota Sai. Aesthetically, we expect that the car will resemble the Toyota FCV-R Concept we originally saw in 2011, which was refreshed this year at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show.  Size-wise, expect a sedan similar in size to the Prius; bigger than a Corolla, but smaller than a Camry.

With the debut of the prototype, we also confirmed a bit more about the car’s unique powertrain mechanics.  For one, we know that the powertrain will output approximately 135 horsepower, which isn’t shabby at all.   Especially when you consider that the super-dense fuel cells Toyota has developed allow room for an almost-Leaf-sized electric battery to aid in acceleration, reportedly giving the car a plenty of “pluck”. As to exactly how efficient the production FCV will be, Toyota estimates that the car will drive 300+ miles on 11 pounds of H2.

Now the only problem is providing drivers with the means to get that 11 pounds of condensed hydrogen on a regular basis. After all, it’s not something you just brew up at home in your kitchen.

Fortunately, everybody knows that 2015 will be the year when a surge of FCVs hit the market, so government agencies and private companies are working furiously to ensure that hydrogen fueling stations are available when drivers start needing them. Just this week, California government officials confirmed that they’re now streamlining plans for a standardized fuel cell refueling infrastructure. So, California drivers, at least, are sure to enjoy plentiful H2.

Obviously, this is all very exciting as Toyota’s FCV literally has the power to transform the auto industry as we know it. Toyota will release their first fuel cell vehicle at a price that will allow it to compete with many of the most popular EVs – likely above $50K, but not by much.

The next major development for Toyota’s FCV will be at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show when the Japanese giant shows us a slightly augmented version of the prototype it showed journalists last week. Until then, stay tuned for any further updates, and as always, thanks for reading!


Toyota Officially Schedules Production of Hydrogen Car; FCV-R Concept Coming to Tokyo

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

There’s an ongoing battle raging between two branches of automotive technology, both racing towards the same goal – zero-emissions personal transportation.

On the one hand you have brands like Tesla and, to a lesser extent, Nissan, who clearly favor the currently more advanced pure electric, plug-in vehicles. On the other hand you have automakers like Toyota, who are certainly willing to dabble in hybrids, but are structuring their long-term future towards a cleaner, more sustainable solution – hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. As of this week, Toyota has made one big step for the latter with their announcement that a revised FCV-R Concept (originally seen in 2011) will make its debut in Tokyo later this year.

But that’s not all… Toyota also says that this new concept will be a prequel to a hydrogen-powered production model coming in 2015. No more rumors, no more maybes; Toyota is officially talking the talk AND walking the walk. And with that, I present to you the upcoming Toyota FCV-R Concept:

Toyota FCV-R

As you can see, what we have here is an otherwise unremarkable midsize sedan sitting in a rainforest; no doubt the steamy condensation glistening on the car’s exterior only serves to further fuel the vehicle.

Yes Toyota, we get it; it runs on water.

But seriously, this is excellent news for HFCV proponents everywhere. Toyota says that the production version of the FCV-R Concept will likely go on sale at a price somewhere between $50K and $100K, which actually seems pretty low.

This relatively low price quote is only possible because of Toyota’s previously existing development in the hybrid arena. The hydrogen fuel cell system used in the FCV-R is actually an adjustment from the hybrid mechanics found in the Toyota Prius. Except, instead of a gas-engine paired with electric motors, Toyota is using an advanced, compact fuel cell stack capable of 3 KW/L, the highest power density ever produced in a hydrogen fuel cell.

Toyota FCR-V

These highly efficient fuel stacks are key in cost reduction because they allow Toyota to cut down on the number of fuel cells included in each vehicle, while still offering a maximum range of at least 420 miles. In addition, these high-density batteries should allow the water-based FCV to operate smoothly in extremely cold temperatures well below freezing.

According to Toyota, we’ll learn everything there is to know about the mechanics behind their new hydrogen-powered concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show, where they’ll be showcasing just the fuel cell system on its own. Then, we’ll see the full FCV-R Concept at the Tokyo Auto Show in November.

All in all, it seems like we should have a much firmer grasp on the future of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles by the end of 2013. If Toyota had their way, FCVs would begin selling by the 10,000s sometime in the early to mid 2020’s. If this turns out to be true – and right now it seems like it might – then there should be no doubt left in anyone’s mind that Toyota has positioned themselves very well to take advantage of the automotive industry’s future. Either way, we’ll know more come Frankfurt, so stay tuned!

Source: Car Scoops


Honda and Toyota Getting More Aggressive With Hydrogen Fuel Cell Future

Posted by Stephen On Friday, July 5th, 2013

Hydrogen fuel cell cars have had a surprisingly controversial history. Ultimately, it comes down to a weird pseudo-rivalry between HFCs and EVs…

On the one hand, you have brands like Toyota who’ve been very aggressive from the start that H2 cars are the future of the automotive industry. They’ll cite the built-in advantages that come with hydrogen, such as gasoline-like range, more power, and a more convenient refueling time, in addition to zero-emissions and infinite renewability.

Honda hydrogen car

However, on the other hand you have brands like Tesla, who’s CEO swears that hydrogen technology is a dead-end, and that EVs will dominate the near future of the automotive world because of cheaper development costs and current technology.

Now, regular readers will know that we’ve talked quite a bit about the Nissan Leaf, as well as a couple other Japanese all-electric cars over the past few months. So, today we thought it’d be a good idea to check-in on the other side of the argument and identify where our favorite Japanese brands stand in their progress towards HFC viability. More specifically, we’re going to discuss two recent developments from Toyota and Honda.

Honda & GM’s Definitive Master Agreement

On Tuesday of this week, it was officially announced that Honda and GM would be partnering up with a brand-new “definitive master agreement to co-develop next-generation fuel-cell systems and hydrogen storage technologies.”

Quite a mouth-full. To give you a basic rundown of the press release, both GM and Honda recognize that to some degree, the skeptics are right. Hydrogen technology IS expensive, and development WILL take longer simply because of the complex nature of a viable H2 solution. So, the two powerhouse automakers are partnering up to share expertise, leverage economies of scale, and eventually utilize common manufacturing strategies.

Specifically, this master alliance aims to accelerate the development of a widespread refueling system, which stands as one of the biggest hurdles to the widespread use of hydrogen. One of the key ways they’ll do this is through improved hydrogen storage, which currently inhibits the acquisition of commercial hydrogen. Both automakers desire to implement these new technologies by 2020.

But, as promising as this new alliance sounds, there’s one Japanese brand that’s getting even more aggressive, and it’s doing so all by itself.

Toyota Bringing 2015 Lexus FCV-R to 2013 Tokyo Motor Show

Last week, Bloomberg filled us in on a few juicy details regarding Toyota’s promised 2015 hydrogen car. Since we haven’t heard very much about it up to this point, we’re pretty excited to delve a little deeper into Toyota’s plans.

So, here’s what we now know:

* Toyota’s first HFC vehicle will be a Lexus sedan
* It will cost between $50,000 and $100,000
* It will offer a range of 300 miles
* We will definitely see a concept at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show
* We might see a production model in 2014, labeled as a 2015MY

As you can see, the future is getting closer. These next five years seem like they’ll be make-or-break time for hydrogen advocates everywhere, as commercial production becomes more and more viable. 2020 will mark roughly 25 years of dedicated HFC development, depending on which brand you’re looking at, and if the cars aren’t getting competitive by then, chances are the technology really is a dead-end.

As always, thanks for reading, and we’d love to hear your own thoughts, comments and opinions below.

Sources: Autoblog Green, Bloomberg, Carscoops, Autoblog Green


Nissan, Ford and Daimler Forge Alliance for FCEV Development

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

There is no doubt that the future of fuel cell technology is a controversial subject. Skepticism for the commercial viability of FCEVs is due to a number of reasons, but it can usually be boiled down to one of two different perspectives – they’re either too expensive or too redundant.

For example, 4 years ago Wired News condescendingly claimed that “it will be 40 years or more before hydrogen has any meaningful impact on gasoline consumption or global warming”. In other words, according to Wired you shouldn’t look for a production-ready FCEV until 2050!

But it’s not just auto-expert-wannabes that abide these negative perspectives… Just a year and a half ago Dan Akerson, CEO of General Motors, stated that “the car is still too expensive and probably won’t be practical until the 2020-plus period”.

Despite this constant skepticism both within and without the auto-industry, creating a viable FCEV continues to be a major goal for many automakers, including all the major Japanese manufacturers. In fact, there is a good chance that January 2013 will go down in history as the turning point for hydrogen fuel cell technology in commercial automobiles.

Why?

Well, earlier this month we saw two global automotive superpowers – Toyota and BMW – join forces to jointly develop mid-size sports cars, lithium-air batteries, and most importantly, fuel-cell vehicle systems. Today, we see another even bigger alliance being struck. Daimler, Ford and Nissan forged an official pact with the explicit goal being to “speed up availability of zero-emission technology and significantly reduce investment costs.”

In other words, Daimler, Ford and Nissan are determined to create “the world’s first affordable, mass-market FCEVs as early as 2017”. That’s right – their goal isn’t to produce a vehicle in forty years, or even twenty, or ten… They’re aiming to have a competitively priced fuel-cell powered vehicle on the market in just four years.

Undoubtedly there will be naysayers pointing to the complete lack of current commercial availability despite 20+ years of hydrogen research and development. But, technology is always changing, and these three major manufacturers definitely have the budget, determination and expertise to achieve their goal. A press release states that “each company will invest equally towards the project… Together, Daimler, Ford and Nissan have more than 60 years of cumulative experience developing FCEVs. Their FCEVs have logged more than 10 million km in test drives around the world in customers’ hands and as part of demonstration projects in diverse conditions.”

Let Us Know Your Thoughts:

Ultimately, this new Daimler-Nissan-Ford alliance is a huge milestone for FCEV development. With Toyota and BMW also in the competition, GM and Volkswagen are the only automotive super powers left out in the dark. So, the time has come to pick your side:

Which auto-alliance do you think will create a production ready FCEV first – Toyota and BMW, or Daimler, Ford and Nissan?

Which one will be better? Why? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: Autoblog Green


Honda FCX Clarity Fuel Cell Car Powers Home for Up To 6 Days

Posted by Stephen On Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Ever since the earthquake and tsunami disaster this time last year, Japanese auto makers have been talking up the advantages of being able to switch power from your EV for use in your home in an emergency situation.

It’s a great idea. Not a feature you would use every day, but one which might just be the difference between making it and not making it when disaster strikes. And it’s not just for Japan, with its earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes … and nuke meltdowns. The same concept works in other parts of the world too. Like when a hurricane knocks out your power in Florida. Or snow brings down the power lines in Scotland.

The thing about using power from your EV is that it only gives you about 2 days worth of electricity. Of course, those two days could be crucial — and it’s better than nothing. But wouldn’t you rather have 6?

Honda FCX Clarity Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car

This is what Honda is promising with the latest development of the FCX Clarity fuel cell car. The addition of an inverter in the trunk of the car means that the Clarity can convert the hydrogen in its tank to electricity to power your home for up to 6 days. Of course, we are talking about a Japanese home, which is smaller than most Western homes, but that 6 days would be 6 days of normal levels of power consumption. The thing is I don’t think you’ll be wasting power watching too many movies on your big screen TV in a real emergency. So with sensible power conservation, you may even get more.

Honda gets to that 6 day figure by comparing the FCX Clarity’s peak power output of 9 kW available over 7 hours, with the amount of power a typical household consumes. In the real scenario, you would be using nowhere near 9 kW, so the power from the hydrogen in a full tank would last a lot longer – 3 times as long as other makers can extract from their EVs.

(And if your Clarity gets its hydrogen from a solar-powered fueling station like the one just installed at the Saitama Prefectural Offices, then you will also have the satisfaction of knowing that this power is completely clean. This solar hydrogen fuel station produces 1.5 kilograms of hydrogen per day from pure, freely-available sunshine.)

The FCX Clarity fuel cell car is slated to go on the market in 2015, so it will be interesting to see whether this emergency electrical supply feature will make it into the production version.

Source: Nikkei (Japanese-language)


Fuji Keizai Group Predicts Fuel Cell Market Growing 135.5 Times by 2025

Posted by Stephen On Friday, November 18th, 2011

The Fuji Keizai Group on November 17th released details of market analysis that suggests the potential for an explosion in the fuel cell market. OK, perhaps “explosion” is not the right word. Let’s call it “rapid growth” instead.

Fuji Keizai expects growth in vehicle fuel cell applications to be a powerful driving force in expanding the market 135.5 times from its 2010 level of 35 billion Yen (455 million USD at current exchange rates) to 4.739 trillion Yen (61.5 billion USD) by 2025.

Fuji Keizai’s numbers predict that about 85% of this market will be home and automotive applications, along with PEFC (polymer electrolyte fuel cells). In 2010, housing applications accounted for 13.5 billion Yen (175.4 million USD) and the automotive fuel cell market for 5.6 billion JPY (72.7 million USD).

However, the introduction of  PEFC for automotive applications is expected to reverse this order by 2020, with the expected market sizes at that time being 556.8 billion Yen (7.23 billion USD) for automotive applications and 523.7 billion Yen (6.8 billion USD).

Automotive applications are then expected to accelerate sharply between 2020 and 2025, with the automotive fuel cell market reaching a peak of 2.51 trillion Yen (32.6 billion USD) by that time. Unsurprisingly, the market for the hydrogen fueling stations that these future vehicles will require is expected to grow 22.9 times from its 2010 level to reach 93.8 billion Yen (1.22 billion USD) by 2025.

Now, much as I love futurology, I have to say that I find a lot to be skeptical about in these figures.

First of all there is that classic error were all warned about back in grade school – the fewer the data points, the more cautious you should be extrapolating the data. To put it another way, if you have a small number of points clustered in the bottom left corner of your graph, you really need to think about just how far you can realistically extend the line you plot.

The fact that market for home and automotive fuel cell applications is so small at present, the technology is so new and – in reality – even the current commercial applications have more of the feel of  large-scale field trials more than a genuine roll out all point to this market being in its infancy.

So in the same way as you would be foolish to predict the future career of your typical 5-year-old, so it also seems unwise to speculate with too much certainty about the future growth of this fuel cell market. And let’s face it, any prediction that speculates growth of 135.5 times (even predicting to one decimal place!) is surely falling foul of this basic error.

Secondly, there are foreseeable potential externalities that could really drive or hinder the growth of this market. The most obvious of these is technological innovation.

Let’s suppose a breakthrough in nanotechnology in 2014 results in a completely new kind of battery that can be made from cheap and abundant materials, that has an energy density many times the best current EV batteries, and which can be recharged to 90% capacity in 10 minutes. If we suppose that fuel cell development remains iterative, it is clear to see how demand for this new kind of EV battery would easily start to draw market share away from fuel cell alternatives. Equally a surprise breakthrough in fuel cell and hydrogen production and storage technology could have the opposite effect and drive demand for fuel cells to even higher levels.

So what can we really draw from this report? Putting the speculative figures aside, I think it is realistic to say that the coming decade plus is likely to see a strong growth in demand for fuel cells. Whether they will become the dominant power source, or whether they will prove to be an “evolutionary dead end” in the longer term is yet to be determined. This is why canny car manufacturers like Honda are hedging their bets with development teams working in parallel on hybrid, EV and fuel cell vehicles.

Sources: MSN, Fuji Keizai Group (both Japanese)


Nissan Fuel Cell Stack Achieves World-Beating Power Density

Posted by Stephen On Friday, October 14th, 2011

Toyota is to hybrids what Honda is to fuel cell vehicles, and what Nissan is to EVs. Or at least that is the traditional view. Perhaps Honda has more fuel cell patents, but that does not mean that companies like Nissan are not also working on their own solutions – and catching the leaders up rapidly.

Nissan has made significant strides forward from the fuel cell stack that it fitted to its 2005 test vehicle, the X-Trail FCV. The latest version revealed to the public on October 13th has a power density 2.5 times greater than this earlier model, putting it at the top of its class for an automotive fuel cell. What this means in practice is that a much more compact unit can provide the same power output, allowing it to be fitted under the floor of the vehicle.

2011 Nissan fuel cell has 2.5 times power density of 2005 X-Trail FCV version

The new fuel cell stack has a power output of 85 kW from a unit that weighs 43kg and has a volume of 34 liters. In comparison, although the 2005 X-Trail FCV lease vehicle fuel cell had a power output of 90kW, it weighed in at 120kg and took up 90 liters volume of space.

A big factor in this downsizing has been the change in design from a unit that had 3 layers of 150 cells in each, to a  single layer of 400 cells. This was achieved by molding the supporting frame of the Membrane Electrode Assembly integrally with the MEA and the separator flow path.

Also reducing the cost is the fact that the new fuel cell stack uses only 1/4 of the platinum required in the 2005 version, which has been a major factor in Nissan being able to reduce the cost of the fuel cell to 1/6 of its predecessor.

Hiromasa Sakai who heads up the fuel cell research effort at Nissan states, “We will be continuing to make improvements based on this new stack.” He went on to state that it is their aim to bring a fuel cell passenger vehicle to market in the sub-10 million Yen price range sometime after 2015.

Sources: Nissan (English), Nissan (Japanese), Nikkei BP (Japanese), Response (Japanese)


Kyushu University Team Develops Platinum-Free Fuel Cell

Posted by Stephen On Thursday, September 15th, 2011

A team from Kyushu University in Fukuoka, southern Japan, published details of an experimental fuel cell that does not use platinum. In traditional fuel cell arrangements, platinum functions as a catalyst, but with platinum prices at around 5,000 Yen per gram (currently approximately $65), the new catalytic compound that relies on ruthenium (450 Yen per gram) and nickel (2 Yen per gram) is a significantly cheaper option. Professor Ogo also announced his intention to work with Daihatsu on the development of a fuel cell vehicle based on this technology.

Although a ruthenium – nickel catalyst-based fuel cell is a world first, a major hurdle that needs to be overcome in the potential commercializing of this method is the fact that it only has 4% of the power-generation efficiency of the equivalent platinum catalyst-based fuel cell. Team leader, Professor Seiji Ogo, comments, “We will continue to work on reducing the electrical resistance, and focus on developing batteries with equivalent power generation levels.”

Despite the low efficiency of the prototype process, the involvement of Toyota subsidiary Daihatsu suggests that this research is seen as having credible commercialization potential. Perhaps we will see platinum-free fuel cells powering the kei cars of the future?

Sources: MSN (Japanese)


Honda No.2 Behind GM in US Fuel Cell Tech Patent Rankings

Posted by Stephen On Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

A recent survey of patents related to fuel cell technology-related patents from 1980 up until the end of May 2011 ranks GM at number one, with Japanese car makers Honda and Toyota in positions 2 and 5 respectively.

The survey considered both the quantity and quality of the patents, which is why Toyota did not rank higher than 4 even though they produced the most patents in this period. 2007 was a particular productive year for Toyota in this regard with 192 fuel cell tech patents registered.

This is a great result for Honda in particular, since they only started focusing on fuel cell research in the 2000s. Notable Honda patents include, “Superior hydrogen leak safety management for fuel cells” and “Easy-assemble fuel cells”. As you can see from the results, Honda was only just edged out by GM, and was well ahead of the third-placed US Department of Energy.

The top five results in detail are:









Rank Company Total Patent Points Number of Patents Highest Score for Individual Patent

1 General Motors 2,522.2 points 799 77.1 points

2 Honda 2,474.0 points 770 90.6 points

3 US DoE 1,898.8 points 377 89.6 points

4 Toyota 1,790.5 points 810 78.9 points

5 Panasonic 1,782.3 points 402 83.2 points







Rank Company Total Patent Points Number of Patents Highest Score for Individual Patent
1 General Motors 2,522.2 points 799 77.1 points
2 Honda 2,474.0 points 770 90.6 points
3 US DoE 1,898.8 points 377 89.6 points
4 Toyota 1,790.5 points 810 78.9 points
5 Panasonic 1,782.3 points 402 83.2 points

As you can see, each patent was scored and the number of points generated by all patents totaled up to give the Total Patent Points. Thus Honda was able to achieve a very close second place with 2,474 points, despite the fact that Toyota, down in 4th place, registered 40 more patents.

Of course, there is more to developing new technology than simply winning a patent ranking race. The real question is how these companies translate their innovation into mass-produced products that shape the market. With the commercialization of fuel-cell technology in vehicles very much in its infancy, the way this race will play out is still far from clear.

Source: Patent Result (Japanese-language)