Carmakers fuelling the debate for hydrogen


Toyota claimed the highest mileage range for a zero emission vehicle car during tests of its Mirai hydrogen fuel cell in the US.

It claims the new vehicle has proved it can go the distance, achieving 67 miles per gallon in official US combined city/highway driving calculations, and an estimated driving range of 312 miles on a single tank – a distance further than for any other zero-emissions car on the market.

Jim Lentz, Toyota North America CEO, announced the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) fuel economy rating for Mirai at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado this week. It confirms that Mirai is the only zero emissions electric vehicle on the market capable of exceeding 300 miles on one fill.

Lenz said: “Toyota realised in the early 90s that electrification was key to the future of the automobile. Just as Prius introduced hybrid-electric vehicles to millions of customers nearly 20 years ago, Mirai is now poised to usher in a new era of efficient, hydrogen transportation.”

Mirai is the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, a four-door saloon and Toyota will introduce Mirai in limited numbers in the UK and other selected European markets later this year, following its launch in Japan and, from this summer, California.

Meanwhile Bloomberg reports that BMW will test its own hydrogen fuel cell car on public roads later this month in a move confirmed during a press viewing of its 5-Series Gran Turismo fuel cell test mule at the circuit in Miramas, France.

The company plans “a technically mature, customer-ready vehicle sometime after 2020,” Matthias Klietz, head of powertrain research, told journalists at the test. “By around 2025 to 2030, we expect fuel cell cars to have an established presence, but there are challenges that remain, like building the refuelling infrastructure.”

BMW, which is developing fuel cells with Japanese partner Toyota, demonstrated the fuel cell car that uses the companies’ joint technology.

The model is part of an industry-wide effort to meet tightening emissions rules by finding alternative sources of power.

Fuel cells use a chemical reaction between hydrogen and air to create electricity on-board the car that is then used to power electric motors. Emissions are non-polluting steam vapour instead of the carbon dioxide emitted by engines burning traditional fossil fuels. However, the biggest challenge to the technology is a woeful lack of infrastructure to handle refuelling.

The Bavarian manufacturer is in talks with other carmakers, governments and utilities on how to speed up the creation of a refuelling network, Axel Ruecker, who’s part of Munich-based BMW hydrogen development team, said at the prototype demonstration. Toyota and Japanese competitors Nissan and Honda have pledged funds to developing a hydrogen-fuelling network in Germany.

BMW claims the fuel-cell makes a compelling argument as a zero-emission vehicle with the Gran Turismo’s range of 310 miles, before refuelling, being more than three times the all-electric i3’s range of 99 miles. Also, the i3’s batteries take at least five hours to recharge, compared with five minutes to fill the prototype’s hydrogen tank.

 “Technically, we’re ready to put fuel-cell cars on the road, but so far it remains too expensive,” Ruecker said. “Making fuel-cell technology a reality is a task not just for carmakers but for the whole of society.”

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