Fuel cell technology is set for prime time as major automakers unveil street-ready hydrogen cars - but the question remains how best to fuel them. Well, here's an idea - run them on poo power! Yesterday I test drove a futuristic Toyota Mirai (one of five pre-release vehicles in the US) to the Fountain Valley Renewable Hydrogen Station, where I refueled it on clean hydrogen gas made from raw sewage.
You can generate hydrogen fuel from a variety of sources – including geothermal energy, solar power, wind turbines, and yes – human waste. The Fountain Valley Renewable Hydrogen Station in Orange County, California has the world’s first tri-generation system, which transforms sewage into heat, electricity, and hydrogen fuel. The plant runs anaerobically digested biogas through a high-efficiency molten carbonate fuel cell to produce 100 kg of hydrogen each day – enough to fill 25-50 fuel cell electric vehicles.
The Toyota Mirai drove like a dream – it floats along the road and the ride is virtually silent save for the sci-fi sound of the hydrogen pump and the whirr of the electric drivetrain. The car’s electric motors give it plenty of torque and a sprightly pickup, and the vehicle’s touch-sensitive controls are a pleasure to use. A counter on the dashboard displays how many miles you can drive until it’s time to fill up.
The refueling process was a breeze at the Fountain Valley station. It took a few seconds for the pump to pressurize, and then I attached the gas-like pump to the hydrogen valve and locked it in. The mechanics are remarkably similar to the way a standard gas pump operates, and the entire process took less than five minutes. The Mirai‘s name means “the future” – and it looks the part. The fact that it can be powered by human waste is testament to how versatile fuel cell vehicles can be.
Photos by Mike Chino for Inhabitat