Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Automotive, Community, Driving, Events, Hybrids, News | Posted on 09-12-2013
The annual Tokyo Auto Show is known for its edgy concept cars, but this year the show featured a ‘radical’ technology from Toyota that is scheduled to go into global production in 2015 — the Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) Concept.
Although there have been reports that those of us in the United States won’t see it until much later, Toyota has hinted that it may make the FCV available in select regions of the country beginning in 2015. The absence of a developed hydrogen fueling infrastructure here in the US remains a huge obstacle to adoption of this technology. Yet, Toyota says it expects to sell a production vehicle based on the FCV in the United States, targeting areas where hydrogen fueling is available. In all likelihood that means California where 10 of the nation’s 28 or so public hydrogen fuel stations exist. Further, the California Fuel Cell Partnership has an action plan in place to develop 46 retail hydrogen fueling stations in six key California communities at a cost of about $180 million over the next four years; $60 million will come from industry and $120 million from government.
According to Catherine Dunwoody, CaFCP’s Executive Director, fuel cell vehicles are coming to California and the infra-structure needs to be in place, “By 2017, automotive manufacturers plan to place 50,000 zero-emission fuel cell vehicles in customer hands. FCVs will provide the performance, durability, driving range, and comfort that customers want, and meet the nation’s need for a domestic fuel that is better for the environment”. No one expects anything like this to happen over night, but the bottom line is that the funds have been allocated for more stations and there is a plan in place with future funding. This funding is being justified by future demand allowing for additional expansion of H2 stations to meet the potential mass adoption of hydrogen-based vehicles.
Utilities in Japan have already started putting in more stations as part of a pilot program co-sponsored by Toyota. For this reason, Toyota will initially launch the FCV in four Japanese cities — Tokyo, Chukyo, Kansai and Fukuoka during 2015. From there it will come to Europe next, where there is a more developed H2 fueling network and to California and then possibly, Hawaii after that, targeting areas where hydrogen fueling is available.
Toyota is serious about hydrogen fuel cell cars and the development of its technology began in 1993 concurrent with the research and development on the Prius. When Toyota
first launched the gas-electric hybrid which has since become the industry standard, the response from the auto industry and mainstream America was pretty skeptical. Through relentless engineering and continuous improvement and a solid three generations of the model, Toyota developed the Prius brand into a hybrid standard. This is the company’s plan with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Fuel cell cars are basically extended-range electric cars — only a hydrogen-powered fuel cell stack serves as the range extender instead of a conventional internal combustion engine as in the Chevy Volt. Toyota believes that this is the best solution to meet the future challenges of dwindling energy sources and increasing emissions. A fuel cell vehicle produces zero emissions during operation and hydrogen is one of the more abundant elements around, although it needs to be extracted (separated) from others (such as H2O). The hydrogen isolation process can be driven by energy sources such as natural gas, but solar energy would have the least environmental impact. A hydrogen station, a storage or filling station for hydrogen, could be located along a road on the hydrogen highway, or in the home as part of the distributed generation resources concept. A hydrogen highway is a chain of hydrogen-equipped filling stations and other infrastructure along a road or highway, such as the one the California Fuel Cell Partnership is developing. Ultimately, a hydrogen highway would link states and countries. Italy and Germany are collaborating to build a hydrogen highway between Mantova (Italy) and Munich (Germany).
The Toyota FCV Concept that is making the rounds on the auto show circuit this season features it’s own fuel cell stack and a pair of high-pressure hydrogen tanks. It is roughly the size of a Camry and has a range of around 310 miles per hydrogen fill-up. Once the fuel stacks are depleted, it takes just three minutes to refuel. Toyota says the FCV would also be capable of powering the average Japanese home for more than a week using the same amount of hydrogen. Toyota is keen on developing home and even neighborhood fuel cell power in Japan where there has been a series of recent natural disasters.
According to a Toyota press release, the fuel cell stack of the FCV develops a peak power output of around 100 kilowatts
(134 horsepower) but there is no mention of the output of the electric traction motors onboard the vehicle. Toyota did mention that the FCV concept is equipped with a high-efficiency boost converter, which increases the voltage so the size of the electric motor and the number of fuel cells could be reduced. The result is a smaller system offering enhanced performance at reduced cost. We can expect a top speed for the FCV to be at or just above 98 mph which was the top-end for the fuel cell Highlander test vehicle that successfully completed cold-weather testing during the 2,700 mile ALCAN Highway testing in 2007. The 100kW output of the new FCV is more than twice that of the 2007 Highlander FCHV demonstration vehicle. Although the fuel cell can deliver sustained power of 100 kilowatts, power delivery to the electric motor driving the front wheels is buffered through a lithium battery pack located under the specially designed body. This allows the vehicle controller to alter power output quickly in response to acceleration and braking.
The exterior styling of the FCV takes its design cues, says Toyota, from the operation of a fuel cell— conveying “the air-to-
water transformation (in fuel cells) with its flowing-liquid door profile and wave-motif fuel cap.” The air and water themes are everywhere. The large-mouth grille design typical of Toyotas these days, is beyond prominent on the FCV and symbolizes “taking in air”. There are Prius cues in the roofline with a “floating roof” effect. The FCV’s rear continues the “flowing water” theme and looks a little like the stern of a catamaran “emitting water” in its wake. Even the color hints of water and air.
Toyota marketing executives are debating whether to include the upcoming fuel cell sedan into the Prius family. The name “Prius” is loaded with marketing weight for both Toyota and its many customers. The Prius is already a successful sub-brand with four models. The “Hybrid Synergy Drive” power train branding will eventually be applied to every Toyota and Lexus. More importantly, as a Toyota engineer mentioned nearly a decade ago at a training session prior to the launch of the Gen ll Prius, “Down the road, all we have to do with Hybrid Synergy Drive is take out the ICE (internal combustion engine) and replace it with a fuel stack and hydrogen fuel tanks and we have a fuel cell vehicle!” Although not that simple, a fuel cell vehicle would fit right in with the rest of the family!