Automotive

The Toyota FCV fuel cell vehicle: Has the code for a hydrogen car been cracked?

The Toyota FCV fuel cell vehic...
Toyota's FCV concept at CES 2014
Toyota's FCV concept at CES 2014
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The FCV concept underwent heat testing in California's Death Valley
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The FCV concept underwent heat testing in California's Death Valley
Toyota plans to introduce a fuel cell car to market in 2015
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Toyota plans to introduce a fuel cell car to market in 2015
The FCV seats four
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The FCV seats four
The concept debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show
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The concept debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show
The planned 2015 release will begin in California
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The planned 2015 release will begin in California
Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity, water and no other emissions
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Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity, water and no other emissions
The FCV concept is more sleek than other "green vehicles
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The FCV concept is more sleek than other "green vehicles
A special outlet allows the vehicle to be used as an emergency source of power as well
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A special outlet allows the vehicle to be used as an emergency source of power as well
Toyota's 2015 rollout plan was announced at CES 2014
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Toyota's 2015 rollout plan was announced at CES 2014
There could be as many as 30 hydrogen fueling stations in California by 2015
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There could be as many as 30 hydrogen fueling stations in California by 2015
A rendering of the FCV
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A rendering of the FCV
Toyota says 68 fueling stations between San Francisco and San Diego could support 10,000 fuel cell cars
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Toyota says 68 fueling stations between San Francisco and San Diego could support 10,000 fuel cell cars
No word yet on pricing
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No word yet on pricing
Toyota's FCV concept at CES 2014
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Toyota's FCV concept at CES 2014
The FCV has a certain charisma up close
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The FCV has a certain charisma up close
The front from above
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The front from above
Face to face
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Face to face
No gas tank here
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No gas tank here
(North American) driver's side
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(North American) driver's side
The guts of the FCV
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The guts of the FCV
Hydrogen is stored in the yellow tank
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Hydrogen is stored in the yellow tank
The FCV drivetrain
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The FCV drivetrain
The FCV drivetrain
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The FCV drivetrain
The FCV underwent cold weather testing in Yellowknife, Canada
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The FCV underwent cold weather testing in Yellowknife, Canada
The FCV underwent cold weather testing in Yellowknife, Canada
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The FCV underwent cold weather testing in Yellowknife, Canada
The FCV underwent cold weather testing in Yellowknife, Canada
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The FCV underwent cold weather testing in Yellowknife, Canada
With a custom tape job, the FCV undergoes hot weather tests in Death Valley
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With a custom tape job, the FCV undergoes hot weather tests in Death Valley
With a custom tape job, the FCV undergoes hot weather tests in Death Valley
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With a custom tape job, the FCV undergoes hot weather tests in Death Valley
With a custom tape job, the FCV undergoes hot weather tests in Death Valley
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With a custom tape job, the FCV undergoes hot weather tests in Death Valley

I had a funny thought walking around the Toyota FCV concept, the company's new Fuel Cell Vehicle set to go on sale beginning in 2015: This could actually be the one, I thought to myself – this could be the first fuel cell vehicle we actually see on the roads in real life.

If the hype is to be believed this time around (and you'd be forgiven for being skeptical about the arrival of this long-promised but never really delivered technology), then the stars could be aligning for hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars to take some modest steps toward reality.

First off, Toyota seems like the right company to move this vehicle forward. It's had the most luck of anyone pushing forward lower-emissions vehicles like its Prius, particularly in the hard-to-crack fuel-guzzling North American market.

As Gizmag has reported, the FCV would use Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive from the Prius, with a hydrogen fuel cell replacing the gas engine. Toyota claims the vehicle will have a range of 300 miles (483 km) and could be refueled in as little as three minutes, rivaling Tesla's plan to swap out entire electric vehicle batteries in just 90 seconds.

The FCV drivetrain
The FCV drivetrain

In a press conference at CES 2014, Bob Carter, a senior vice president for Toyota's automotive operations in the US, spent a significant amount of time talking not just about the FCV itself, but also about the planned 2015 rollout beginning in California. He also touched upon what is perhaps the biggest stumbling block to the whole thing – the needed fueling station infrastructure.

“The issue of infrastructure is not so much about how many, but rather, location, location, location,” said Carter. “If every vehicle in California ran on hydrogen – we could meet refueling logistics with only 15 percent of the nearly 10,000 gasoline stations currently operating in the state.”

Toyota and the University of California at Irvine collaborated on a study that found only 68 strategically-placed refueling stations between the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego could support a population of 10,000 fuel cell vehicles.

"We in the US have already asked our headquarters for substantially more volume than our original request," said Carter. "We believe that demand will outweigh our current supply plan."

He also noted that while there are only 10 active hydrogen stations in California, funding has been approved for 20 more by 2015 and 40 by 2016.

"Stay tuned," added Carter, "because this infrastructure thing is going to happen."

No gas tank here
No gas tank here

While Toyota focuses on the hard sell around the infrastructure issue, there's one other important thing worth mentioning about this car that I was able to experience first-hand: it's actually a pretty sexy vehicle.

After a decade of relatively boxy, cramped, uncomfortable and just plain weird-looking hybrid cars, the model on display at CES could rival a Tesla when it comes to being both zero-emissions and stylish.

What remains to be seen though is if the price will be right, and if enough of that infrastructure will materialize in time for Toyota's planned 2015 launch.

Source: Toyota

43 comments
Anne Ominous
I am sure I come across as overly-critical at times, but... DAMN that thing is ugly. The hood arrangement makes it look like it has been in an accident that broke the hood, and those "scoops" at the front corners almost certainly do nothing for the aerodynamics. If you're going to add big features just for the looks, why not fins in the back? No, wait... already been done.
Milton
I wish they would put more emphasis on EV technology.
Russell
@Milton You make a good point, you know how they could reduce the need for hydrogen stations? Well seeing as they already are using the synergy drive/hybrid why not make it run say 30 miles on pure electric, a hydrogen plug-in hybrid. Then 10% of the range would be electric, however probably 80% of the distance would be powered by electricity which will always be cheaper than hydrogen. Even if hydrogen lives up to all its promise it would still be practically 80% electric. Such a car would have quite a lot of use for example if your power goes down you can use the fuel cell to power your house, also if the grid is about 100% renewable and there is a time with not enough wind/solar for days then people can just let their cars power the grid for a few days and visit the fuel station more often. Could be a lot cheaper than building power plants that only get used for a week a year.
Ian McIntosh
It is going to be a convenience calculation. People buy cars for the "freedom" to travel where and when they want; this is captured by the concept of the road trip.... You see it in car ads, and particularly in car design. No-one needs a fraction of the performance of a modern car for commuting. The result has been that the weakness of eco friendly cars has been the poor performance at long range driving - most people rarely travel this distance but will be reluctant to purchase a car that cannot do it. They could increase the battery range, at a significant cost in weight, but that would mean giving up either performance or hydrogen storage/fuel cell output. EVs are currently highly limited in the road trip mode - at best a couple of hours driving followed by a 1/2 to 1 hour charge cycle. Toyota has always focussed on ensuring the charge cycle is completely unnecessary - their hybrids lacked any ability to charge the battery simply to ensure the petrol engine competitors could not harp on the charge time.... I imagine we are seeing a similar approach here. Tesla is already in the market with a 400 mile electric car, with a 90 second battery swap. Toyota's fuel cell hybrid needs to compete - both performance and convenience wise. That means the car needs to be able to run completely from the fuel cell (much the same as the current generation of ICE hybrids can) - which requires a certain minimum power output from the plant, and carry enough hydrogen for a 400 mile trip, while still providing sufficient performance at high speed to make road trips enjoyable.
Nick 1801
The other question is: have they solved the hydrogen storage problem? As I understand it, if you fill your car with hydrogen and then leave it for a week, all the hydrogen will have leaked out. Hydrogen atoms are so small, no container can keep them in.
The Skud
I also favor a "in-house" hydrogen making system, alongside the battery recharging systems that work in off-peak hours. Plug in when you get home, then during the off-peak hours you will end up with a fully charged and 'gassed' car for the next day. If enough of these systems get made and used, the Peak / Off-peak highs and lows will flatten a bit, easing the severe loads on power generation plants. Now if they can find a good use for the oxygen that is split off from the water when you are making the hydrogen ....
Craig Jennings
I thought the code for fuel cell vehicles was. Fuel cell. Fuel storage. Fuel production. Somewhere to get the fuel. So all we're interested in this article is where to get the fuel? I'm pretty sure most people know which order of importance these things need "cracking".
jakey1234
All very interesting but fueling stations are very much the minor issue with hydrogen. We still need to be able to produce it in an energy efficient manner from other than another fuel (natural gas) and also solve the transport, storage and safety issues before its potential can be realised. Whilst there have been many encouraging developments recently we are still appear quite a few years away from this. At the moment it is still a long way more efficient and effective to use the electricity that is used to produce hydrogen to fill up an EV's battery. Tesla is still on the right track.
Slowburn
I don't get the Advantage of hydrogen so much energy goes into liberating and compressing it it has to be expensive.
Siv
What I don't understand is why we are messing about with batteries at all. Didn't Ford ages ago have a Ford Focus that had been converted to burn Hydrogen directly? To me that is what we should be doing, then you can keep your existing gas guzzling cars and instead of guzzling petrol they guzzle hydrogen and produce water vapour. All we have to crack then is a hydrogen fuelling station network and methods of ensuring that the Hydrogen tank is safe in an accident. Clearly if Toyota have this car that problem has been cracked. Having millions of cars running around with all these weird substances in the battery that will cause a huge pollution nightmare in the future when these have to be replaced is not good. Let alone the huge costs of shipping the raw material around the World from where these rare metals are to be found such as China is a bad idea. So we finally lose our dependency on the Arab World for Oil only to create another one making us dependant on the Chinese!? I have seen loads of projects here on Gizmag where Scientists are working on alternate ways to produce hydrogen, the most promising one was the one that used salt water and I think it was bacteria to convert the sea water into hydrogen and it also produced clean water so it could be a desalination plant as well. Why are we not pursuing this sort of thing and making ourselves entirely non-dependent on other super powers and not creating huge amounts of pollution shipping these rare metals for batteries around the World?? If cars ran on hydrogen directly rather than via a battery I would imagine all existing cars could go through a process similar to the one we currently have that converts them to run on liquid petroleum gas and in one fell swoop you have solved the pollution problem? I think the only good thing about this is that it will encourage a hydrogen filling station network. Siv