Automotive

Toyota opens fuel cell patents to drive "hydrogen society"

Dr. Michio Kaku speaks at Toyota's CES 2015 press conference
Dr. Michio Kaku speaks at Toyota's CES 2015 press conference
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Toyota simulates a blackout at its CES press conference to highlight the Mirai's backup generator capabilities
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Toyota simulates a blackout at its CES press conference to highlight the Mirai's backup generator capabilities
Dr. Michio Kaku speaks at Toyota's CES 2015 press conference
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Dr. Michio Kaku speaks at Toyota's CES 2015 press conference
Toyota announces its plans to open its fuel cell patents
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Toyota announces its plans to open its fuel cell patents
The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
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The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
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The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
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The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
The Mirai's hydrogen fuel cell underpinnings (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
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The Mirai's hydrogen fuel cell underpinnings (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
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The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
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The Toyota Mirai at the 2014 LA Auto Show (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)

Toyota is serious about hydrogen fuel cell technology. It's so serious that it's not only welcoming competition, it's helping it. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, the automaker announced that it will open more than 5,500 fuel cell patents and provide royalty-free licenses to other automakers and entities.

Upon walking into Toyota's CES press conference, the shimmering Mirai under the hard conference room lighting suggested that it might just be a rehashing of the details we already learned at November's LA Auto Show. Instead, Toyota used the Mirai as a jumping off point for what it terms the "hydrogen future."

"We're leaving the age of hydrocarbons and entering the age of hydrogen to create a hydrogen non-polluting society," physicist, futurist and author Dr. Michio Kaku said from Toyota's dais. "Seventy-five percent of the universe is made out of hydrogen. Hydrogen is the most plentiful substance in the universe. Contrast that now to oil, black gold, one of the rarest of substances on the Planet Earth. Nations will kill to secure supplies of oil. Oil is found perhaps in the most dangerous, volatile, unstable areas of the Planet Earth."

The Mirai's hydrogen fuel cell underpinnings (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)
The Mirai's hydrogen fuel cell underpinnings (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)

Toyota hopes to help jumpstart this future hydrogen society by sharing its intellectual property. This week's announcement represents the first time that it's sharing patents free of charge. The automaker helped to grow the gas-electric hybrid market in a similar manner, but those licensed technologies didn't come free.

"At Toyota, we believe that when good ideas are shared, great things can happen," said Bob Carter, senior VP of automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc. "The first generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy providers. By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically."

The approximately 5,680 total global patents break down into roughly 3,350 fuel cell system software control patents, 1,970 fuel cell stack-related patents, 290 high-pressure hydrogen tank patents, and 70 hydrogen production and supply patents. They will be made available to fuel cell vehicle manufacturers, fuel cell parts suppliers, and hydrogen fueling station companies through an initial market introduction period that Toyota expects to run until 2020. Toyota will consider requests from outside the transportation sector on a case by case basis.

Last year, Tesla announced a similar move, opening its EV patents to the competition..

Source: Toyota

18 comments
Shohreh
Topics that are rarely addressed in the media: 1. How is that hydrogen produced and distributed? If it's made from natural gas, 1) it makes no difference from burning oil and 2) we might as well run on natural gas directly with no additional loss. 2 How much hydrogen can be produced per year, at what cost, and at which EROEI? 3. Will this occur before peak oil? 4. Fuel cells were invented in the 19th century. Has something dramatic occured that they are now finally a good alternative to oil? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_cell
ClauS
Looks that hydrogen path is expensive and quite empty so Toyota is trying to share the loss, ... sorry, the cost.
Milton
it cracks me up that they advertise using your car as a backup generator for power-outages. Something tells me anyone who is forking out 30-40K for a brand-new car isn't going to be experiencing occasional power-outages. And holy-moley... how much money did they spend on that CES "generator" demonstration set ?!
John Frodo
This blows me away. I think it may be another indication that fossil fuels are almost done as an energy source.
Ryan Chiricosta
Shohreh, Hydrogen fuel cells don't burn the hydrogen they harness the energy released when the Hydrogen combines with Oxygen to form water. So the only byproduct is water. The catch is to get the hydrogen you have to perform electrolysis of water, which involves applying an electrical charge to the water to separate the 2 gases. So essentially a hydrogen car at it's roots runs on electricity, the advantage is that you can instantly fill up a hydrogen car(like you would a gas car) as supposed to charging(like an solely electric car.
Lowell Angell
Recently, Stanford researchers were able to discover a way to split water using only the power of a mere AAA battery. Their method uses cheap iron and nickel electrodes. This means that wind power and solar power can now easily produce large quantities of hydrogen from water. I am sorry that the commenters have not been paying attention to advancements announced by Gizmag.
pATREUS
Shohreh, so many wrongs in your assertions. Frankly, I would be embarrassed to post that sort of propaganda.
SamB
Ryan, Something combining with oxygen to form whatever byproduct is another name for 'burning' something. Eg C + O2 -> CO2 + heat. The difference in a fuel cell is you are using a catalyst to promote that reaction and the electron transfer is harnessed to drive an electrical circuit rather than simply producing heat. Where you get the hydrogen from isn't relevant and sure you can use water as the source but it is far from being the most economical source at this point in time. The difficulty with hydrogen relates to the relatively poor energy density of hydrogen unless you crank up the storage pressure to levels that are very difficult to manage safely. Every prototype of fuel cell vehicle until the last generation Hyundais and this concept demonstrated by Toyota has essentially been a giant fuel tank on wheels without the free space normal car drivers expect. Even the new Hyundai has 2 massive tanks integrated into the floor that impose on the cars space to try and match normal car equivalence. As you increase the pressure of your storage, your costs for your distribution system get exponentially more expensive. All of the pumps and valves need to be that much better to make sure we don't have hydrogen explosions going off at petrol stations the world over. The reason Toyota are opening up patents is that they can't see a pathway for them to generate income in the foreseeable future. It's an acknowledgment that this technology won't compete with current technologies for at least another decade or more (and I would add if ever).
Stephen N Russell
awesome, now to get some H2 fuelling stations using same acerage as gasline stations, Radical & then add Tesla battery changing modules, Let do this
Gavin Roe
There are numerous possibilities currently all promising a cleaner greener future, however we we need the infer-structure to support the new variations and that is not going to happen when there is the probability the investors will loose, Toyota is hoping if they provide the path to tomorrow all will follow and they are already prepared.
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