Mar 092012

Hydrogen Energy for Cars

The world’s biggest producer of vehicles, Toyota, has announced it plans to retail tens of thousands cars powered by hydrogen by 2020. This suddenly brings into a play a new green source of energy in the car market, a first from a major automaker.

Toyota FCV R Hydrogen Powered Eco Car

Toyota FCV R Hydrogen Powered Eco Car

Toyota FCV-R at Geneva Motor Show

Toyota made the announcement this week during the first showing in Europe of its hydrogen concept car, the sporty FCV-R, at the Geneva motor show. In terms of the next few years, the Japanese carmaker says it has a firm plan in place in regards to hydrogen. The company plans to conduct significant testing on the technology in Japan, Europe and the US this year and next ahead of a scheduled release for a saloon fuel-cell vehicle by 2015. Only Daimler and Hyundai have anything that remotely comes close to Toyota’s plans when it comes to hydrogen technology.

Fuel Cell Unit

So what can we expect from a hydrogen vehicle by Toyota? Based on what we have seen from the FCV-R, a vehicle that was first seen at the Tokyo motor show in November last year, it could be exciting. The car uses a fuel-cell unit placed beneath the body, which still leaves sufficient space for four passengers and a boot with an average amount of cargo space. Overall, the car is a little smaller than a Toyota Camry.

Motorway cruising range of 435

The fuel cell, which includes a high-pressure hydrogen tank, would give the FCV-R a motorway cruising range of some 435 miles based on current specifications, many more times the range of a current electric vehicle, and a diesel for that matter. But just how green could a hydrogen vehicle potentially be?

Greenest Technology Available

The good news is that a hydrogen fuel cell does not produce any CO2 whatsoever, meaning it would automatically become the greenest vehicle technology available. It is therefore surprising the technology hasn’t come to fruition earlier, even though the production methods employed in manufacturing do use fossil fuels to an extent. The main problem at this stage, as with electric vehicles, is introducing the necessary infrastructure to support the vehicles, including refueling options. Given the distances involved, this should be easier to overcome than in the case of electric vehicles, even if electricity is a more customer-friendly fuel at this stage.

Hydrogen Competition

So while the likes of the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt battle it out in the EV market, the hydrogen segment competition looks to be between some kind of variation on the FCV-R, the already up-and-running Honda Clarity and prototypes under development by Daimler, Nissan and Ford. The stakes would appear to be incredibly high.

Toyota FCV R Hydrogen Powered Eco Car

Toyota FCV R Hydrogen Powered Eco Car

While electric vehicles struggle to gain acceptance among the general public, mainly due to range and recharging issues, and hybrids increasingly look to be a stop-gap measure until greener vehicles come along, hydrogen offers real promise. Whether or not that is to be realised should become a great deal clearer when Toyota releases its offering in about three years from now.

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