Toyota pushes ahead with Mirai fuel cell vehicle

Japanese automaker Toyota yesterday announced new details of its first ever commercial fuel cell vehicle (FCV).

The Toyota Mirai – meaning ‘future’ in Japanese – will feature a driving range of around 312 miles (502km), with a fuel consumption of 67 miles per gallon (28.5 km/L) gasoline equivalent.

Despite the fact that its fuel consumption is higher, the Toyota Mirai features the longest driving range of any so-called ‘zero emissions vehicle’.*

The Mirai itself contains a revolutionary new engine type, which combusts hydrogen and oxygen within a fuel cell, in order to generate electrical energy. This electrical energy is then used to power motors which drive the car’s wheels.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars have an advantage over battery-electric vehicle as they can have higher maximum ranges, and can refill their hydrogen fuel at a rate similar to traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

“Toyota realized in the early 90’s that electrification was key to the future of the automobile,” said Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz. “Just as the Prius introduced hybrid-electric vehicles to millions of customers nearly twenty years ago, the Mirai is now poised to usher in a new era of efficient, hydrogen transportation.”

New hydrogen infrastructure agreement

While FCVs like the Mirai have advantages in terms of range and refill times, they require a large amount of support infrastructure.

In order to solve this problem, Toyota also yesterday announced plans to collaborate with other major Japanese car markers to build towards a hydrogen economy.

Toyota, Nissan and Honda have agreed to work together to form the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology (HySUT) group.

This group will provide significant funding for the construction of hydrogen fuelling stations around Japan. Once stations are constructed the three companies will also cover one third of their operating costs, to a total of 11 million yen per station.

HySUT will also help fuelling stations improve their customer service in order to create an attractive refuelling network for FCV owners.

The companies behind this plan hope that their investment will make FCVs a more popular form of transport, and be mutually beneficial towards their plans to market these cars into the future.

*Although it is possible to produce hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles using techniques that create zero emissions, steam reforming of natural gas – sometimes referred to as steam methane reforming (SMR) – is currently the most common method of producing commercial bulk hydrogen. Steam reforming uses methane to yield carbon monoxide and hydrogen (CH4 + H2O ⇌ CO + 3 H2).

Carbon monoxide (CO) is only a very weak direct greenhouse gas, but has important indirect effects on global warming. Carbon monoxide is an ozone precursor, and also reacts with the hydroxyl (OH) radicals in the atmosphere, reducing their abundance. As OH radicals reduce the lifetimes of many strong greenhouse gases (such as methane), CO indirectly increases the global warming potential of these gases.

Thus current fuel cell cars are not strictly zero emissions as the production of their fuel releases carbon monoxide. Zero emission production is becoming more common through electrolysis powered by solar power as has been demonstrated by Hyundai in Australia.

By Michael Cruickshank and Tim Brown