Toyota Sets Its Sights on Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars


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Could hydrogen fuel cell cars be commonplace in the near future? They could if Toyota has something to say about it. 

Toyota president Akio Toyoda said that the company’s next step will be hydrogen fuel cell cars and the company head believes Toyota could mass market the vehicles some time in the not-so-distant future.

The company started work on the fuel cell technology two decades ago but because of the high cost of manufacturing, the cars were nearly $1 million each. Now Toyota is focused on more economical technology, in fact, their new hydrogen fuel cell car, the Mirai will be available in Europe for $62,000.

“This is not an alternative to a gasoline vehicle,” Scott Samuelsen, an engineer and director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California at Irvine told Business Week. “This is a quantum step up.”

Hydrogen fuel cell cars run on hydrogen gas rather than gasoline so they emit heat and water rather than greenhouse gases. They can go 300 miles before needing to be refueled. While the cars look similar to traditional cars on the outside, they contain a fuel cell stack that converts hydrogen gas and oxygen into electricity to drive the electric motor. The cars can fuel in less than five minutes.

“The automobile industry can contribute to the sustainable growth of Earth itself,” Akio told Business Week. “At Toyota, we are looking out 50 years and even more decades into the future. I do believe that [the] fuel-cell vehicle is the ultimate environmentally friendly car.”

But as with EVs, the main drawback to the technology is a lack of infrastructure in place to refuel. There are currently nine fueling stations in California and 13 in place nationwide. And it becomes a battle over which technology deserves more funding. Additionally, while you can charge EVs at home, that’s not possible with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Some experts also dispute whether or not fuel cell technology is good for the environment. Elon Musk said at a conference in Tokyo that since U.S. hydrogen production comes from burning natural gas, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are indirectly burning fossil fuels.

Akio Toyoda’s response: “There’s a high possibility that there will be many sources of hydrogen in the future, such as solar energy and even waste.”

Undoubtedly, these technologies face challenges for a society still addicted to oil but when these great minds come together, there’s hope that in the future we won’t be focused on fossil fuels. But rather, on modes of transportation that don’t emit planet warming greenhouse gas emissions and don’t involve destroying ecosystems. All in an effort to find a fuel source that beyond being dirty is downright out-of-date.

What do you think? What will your morning commute look like in a few decades? Are you excited about the technology ahead?

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Image: Joseph Brent

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Sara Novak