Monday, January 13, 2014

Is there a role for hydrogen powered fuel-cell cars?

Well, it looks like Toyota is about to find out.

As someone who has been fascinated by hydrogen and the wonders of devices like fuel cells for over 50 years, I will admit that I spent at least two decades preaching how the future was going to see the carbon-based economy replaced by a hydrogen one.  It is actually a plausible scenario except for one major problem—even if hydrogen-powered cars could be made practical, reliable, and safe, building up the vast necessary refueling infrastructure was going to be so expensive that even IF the energy giants wanted to do it, it was probably way too expensive to sell to the Exxon / BP / etc./ shareholders.

Toyota has so many top-flight engineers that their main problem is keeping them engaged.  There are only so many refinements possible to a gasoline-fueled Corolla, after all.  So they have decided that refueling is not their problem but making a fuel-celled car worthy of a Toyota badge is.  This is an example of grown-ups with skills doing something they do very well.  At the end of this short article is a small clip of Toyota doing cold-weather testing in Yellowknife.

So while I have lost most of my youthful enthusiasm for hydrogen vehicles, I am still VERY curious to see how this experiment turns out!

Toyota Is Going to Sell a Hydrogen Car Globally in 2015

Posted on Jan 6, 2014

While competitor Honda has been tinkering with Fuel Cell Vehicles for ages without putting one up for sale, Toyota just announced that it’s going to commercialize the future of driving on a worldwide scale in just one year.

Like the Honda FCX Clarity, the Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) uses basic chemistry and high technology to turn compressed hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. The only waste product is water vapor. Toyota says its prototype has a range of 300 miles before it needs refueling, which takes less than five minutes.

Tesla founder Elon Musk recently said, “Fuel cell is so bullshit.” But the technology is actually quite promising. Electric cars such as those made by Tesla have been held back by the slow pace of innovation in battery technology. It typically takes electric cars hours to recharge, and range is limited. Musk’s Tesla has come up with numerous schemes to circumnavigate those problems, but fuel cell cars, which have their own power plants, don’t have such issues.

Here in Southern California, where Honda allows 200 Clarity cars to be leased a year, we already have a network of hydrogen refueling stations. It’s easy for drivers to wrap their minds around that concept, because it mirrors the fossil fuel network we already have. There’s no need to install special equipment in your garage or at work. And it allows private industry an opportunity to buy into the future.

Only time will tell if it takes off, but it’s very exciting news given that billions of new drivers are emerging from poverty in the developing world and in Los Angeles we’ve been enjoying winter temperatures in the 80s. Global warming is real, and any and all solutions are welcome. more

Cold testing in Yellowknife Canada

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