Toyota has just released details of its next-generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, and the company hopes it could become a game-changer in green transportation. The automaker has managed to reduce the cost of the fuel cell for the zero-emissions car by a phenomenal $1 million, and they aim to launch a $100,000 hydrogen-powered mid-size sedan by mid-2015.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been around for decades—it’s been used aboard spacecraft since the 1960s. The environmental appeal comes from the fact that they can create electricity and emit only water—and unlike electric vehicles, hydrogen-powered vehicles can fuel quickly and have about the same range as a standard gasoline powered car. The problem is that the technology is prohibitively expensive, due in large part to the platinum used in hydrogen fuel cell “stacks,” but Toyota claims to have drastically reduced its use of the precious metal.
Reuters reports: “Toyota engineer Hitoshi Nomasa said the company had cut its use of platinum, which sells on world markets around $1,380 an ounce (28 grams), from around 100 grams in the fuel cell of its current hydrogen-powered SUV model to around 30 grams.” These SUVs are not commercially available—there are only around 100, all leased out to the US and Japanese government. .
Toyota is banking that a $100,000 hydrogen-powered sedan could not only be viable, but as prices decrease, they believe the cars could be a game changer in much the same way as the Prius impacted the EV market. Indeed, Toyota’s Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso stated earlier this week that they “aim to sell tens of thousands of fuel cell vehicles a year by sometime in the 2020s.”
Not everyone is an enthusiastic supporter of hydrogen-powered cars, however. Elon Musk claimed to Science Friday at “except for the upper stage of a rocket, hydrogen makes no sense,” as energy is required to make, and then compress or liquify hydrogen and it is often generated from natural gas.
Furthermore, a substantial infrastructure will have to be in place for widespread adoption of hydrogen-powered cars. Bloomberg reports however that there is progress on that front “Japan, Germany and South Korea have government programs to create initial networks of hydrogen fuel stations. California has also approved funding for 100 stations over nine years. It has nine public hydrogen stations open and 19 more in development.”
Toyota continues to plow forward, and aim to further reduce costs with improved platinum coating, using less carbon fiber in the car’s high-pressure hydrogen tanks and with the use of more mass-produced parts. The first prototype of the sedan is set to be unveiled in Japan in November, and will be sold in Japan, the United States and Europe