Toyota Follows Honda Down a Hydrogen Rabbit Hole

Toyota has taken up Honda’s hydrogen fuel generating model that some would say goes nowhere in terms of promoting commercialization of the technology.

That’s because it has deployed its own all-in-one machine to make, store and supply the fuel. Honda’s UK solar-powered hydrogen fuel generating unit was developed in league with gas specialist BOC and opened at the automaker’s Swindon car plant, Wiltshire, in 2014. Now Toyota is using a similar system that has been in operation since March at its Motomachi factory in Japan.

Dubbed the SimpleFuel1, the machine is a compact and simplified hydrogen station drawing electricity from the factory’s solar panels for low-carbon hydrogen production using a water electrolysis process. The hydrogen is then compressed, pressurized and supplied to Motomachi’s fleet of fuel cell forklift trucks. The station claims to be able to produce about 8.8kgs a day of hydrogen, enough to fuel up to eight forklifts.

Now, that’s not an awful lot of fuel for the size of the solar panels being employed because, while Toyota doesn’t say how many panels create this fuel, on my original visit to Honda’s facility, when it opened five years ago, it was easy to spot the problem with the concept.

Here’s an extract of my article at the time: ‘The plant uses about 1.5 acres of solar panels to produce just 20 metric tonnes of fuel each year. This means, on latest government fuel use figures of 2011, the average service station selling annually 27,000 metric tonnes of hydrogen to match just diesel sales would need a park of solar panels 2,025 acres strong… that is a whole lot of farm land disappearing beneath the blank mirrored stare of green technology.’

So, while any expansion of ‘clean’ fuel sources should be welcomed, the commercial use of hydrogen requires a much broader brush approach. What about plonking a hydrogen fuel generator at the foot of every wind turbine, producing the gas when the grid can’t accept high energy generation periods and then shipping that fuel by hydrogen powered trucks to the established network of service stations?

On the principle that ‘build it and they will come’ we could see a huge rise of interest among consumers in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the knowledge that every service station carries the fuel. Just a thought…

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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