Why does Toyota make hydrogen cars?

Why does Toyota propose hydrogen fuel cell technology as a power solution for zero emission vehicles? We look at reasons why hydrogen is the ideal source of clean energy.

Putting energy needs into context

Energy and transport sectors are being presented with huge challenges in decarbonising society and providing energy security, while simultaneously improving air quality and minimising environmental impact. The UK government has delivered a particular focus in this respect, targeting an 80% reduction in all greenhouse gases by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

With numerous social, political and economic issues to consider, it is not possible for a single solution to meet all needs. However, the fundamental relationships between these issues and objectives are consistent across the globe.

Why hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and has the highest specific energy density of any non-nuclear power source. It is inexhaustible and non-toxic; it can be created using many sources, stored indefinitely and can be shipped relatively easily.

Millions of tonnes of hydrogen are produced and used without incident every year and we can now handle it more safely than fossil fuel. It is already being used as a power source in buildings, and in mobile applications such as passenger vehicles, fork-lifts, ships and trains. Testing is even underway to produce hydrogen-fuelled aircraft.

Hydrogen production

Producing, compressing and dispensing hydrogen does consume some energy, but this can be combatted by using surplus renewable energy that might otherwise be wasted. Hydrogen is also a by-product of certain industries, some of which can create emissions, yet technologies and systems are now available to ensure that its production is free of emissions. Once produced, hydrogen is also efficient and cost-effective to distribute.

Interestingly, most new vehicle hydrogen refuelling stations create hydrogen on-site with electrolysis, using 100% renewable surplus energy. No deliveries are needed and there are no emissions from either the production process or the fuel’s consumption. These stations are containerised and only require water and power to operate. Power is supplied on green tariffs, or at some stations is sourced directly from solar or wind on-site.

Toyota and hydrogen

Toyota believes that there is currently no single solution to reducing vehicle emissions or meeting customer transport needs. It is about delivering the right vehicle at the right place and at the right time, so investments have been made in all areas in order to meet immediate, medium- and long-term needs throughout the world.

Learn more: What is the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050?

In the shorter term, petrol-electric hybrids and plug-in hybrid vehicles look likely to dominate, while pure battery electric vehicles are viewed as a more expensive, niche solution. Fuel cells offer the greatest future potential but require significant investment and the use of advanced technology.

The Toyota Mirai is the world’s first full production hydrogen fuel cell saloon and winner of the World Green Car award in 2016. It can be driven for around 300 miles from a full 5.0kg tank of hydrogen. That quantity of fuel is produced from 50 litres of water, and in the course of driving that distance the car’s only emission will be 50 litres of water. Nothing is consumed. The whole process is simply a transfer of energy.

Annual production and sales of Mirai have increased yearly, going from about 700 units in 2015 to around 2,000 units in 2016 and 3,000 units in 2017. At present, the model is sold in 11 countries: Japan, the United States, and nine countries in Europe. In the UK, 74 units have been sold up to June 2018 but that figure will rise significantly when the Met Police and private hire firm Green Tomato Cars receive their full fleet orders. Such growing confidence in hydrogen-powered transport has allowed Toyota to plan annual production of fuel cell vehicles to 30,000 units by the early 2020s.

Learn more: Toyota to support mobility at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020

In considering the significance of Mirai, it is worth reflecting on the impact of Toyota’s hybrid technology. With more than 11.7 million petrol-electric hybrid vehicles sold worldwide since the introduction of the original Prius in 1997, and many other vehicle manufacturers adopting similar technologies, Toyota’s leadership is clear.

A hydrogen-fuelled future

Thanks to its universal availability, Toyota believes that the long-term use of hydrogen is likely and its adoption will rapidly accelerate. The range of applications will increase and energy suppliers will use it as a fully renewable energy vector, enabling cheaper, more efficient power supply and vehicle refuelling.

The importance of hydrogen in the future is underlined by the recent formation of the Hydrogen Council, a global group bringing together senior executives from leading fuel, energy, manufacturing and mining businesses. These include Air Liquide, Alstom, Anglo American, BMW, Daimler, Engie, Honda, Hyundai, Kawasaki, Linde, Shell, Total and Toyota. Having committed to spend $5 billion in the next five years, the council’s intention is to co-ordinate and accelerate hydrogen investment and deployment in all sectors.

Although there are issues of customer acceptance that will take time to solve, there is an expectation that by the mid- to late-2020s we will see hydrogen power reach the mainstream – a significant shift in the energy sector brought about by growing economic, political and environmental pressure.

Comments (13)

  1. One of the issue is supply of hydrogen. Toyota is a major manufacturer of cars and user of energy. You should be signing a Corporate PPA for your manufacturing operations in Europe, and in countries that have curtailed wind (like Germany) specify that they have to have a electrolyser on the wind site. This is similar to how we combined the transport and energy sectors in South Australia through our roadmap; with our Japanese friends. This will not only solve the availability and range anxiety issues (COO), but give you further green credits (CFO), but improve your production facilities bottom line (CFO).

  2. Nobody’s said/asked how much this new vehicle/technology is going to cost per vehicle? BEV vehicles are still over priced and they have been going a while now ! Still there’s the proverbial ranger anxiety and a severe shortage of charge points and information as to how to use them M

  3. Waste of R&D Toyota… concentrate on batteries. Easy decision. EV L3 fast charging stations expanding exponentially (and slow outlets everywhere) Hydrogen stations are nonexistent.
    1:00 gathering hydrogen from Electrolysis is horribly inefficient, not s inexhaustible from all the electricity needed to do that.
    1:22 , Um, electricity is easy to convey over long distances. Line losses is only around 5% on the power lines.
    1:35 , How much fuel will be needed to transport the Hydrogen from the South to the North?

    Hydrogen station availability may eventually go exponential, but EV charging stations exponential curve is so far ahead, there is no way hydrogen will be the norm except for heavy-duty applications such as generator fuel on plugin-hybrid trucks.
    Unless, certain materials for batteries become scarce and no good alternative is found. Fuel cells use specialized elements too.

    1. Hi there,
      Thanks for getting in touch.
      Toyota believes that there is currently no single solution to reducing vehicle emissions or meeting customer transport needs. Therefore, we are investing in multiple different solutions including hydrogen and electric vehicles. It is about delivering the right vehicle at the right place and at the right time, so investments have been made in all areas in order to meet immediate, medium- and long-term needs throughout the world.
      You can find hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK:
      Aberdeen
      Cobham Services (M25)
      Heathrow Airport (Hatton Cross)
      Hendon
      Rainham
      Sheffield (Rotherham)
      Swindon
      Teddington
      Beaconsfield Services (M40)
      The Toyota Mirai is the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. It has recently become the first hydrogen fuel cell electric car to drive the length of Britain from John O’Groats to Land’s End, in the process emitting nothing but a few litres of pure water along the way. You can read more here: http://blog.toyota.co.uk/mirai-marathon-maps-uk-hydrogen-fuel-future.
      The Toyota Mirai is also now being used by the Metropolitan Police and Green Tomatoes, read more here: http://blog.toyota.co.uk/mirai-met-police and http://blog.toyota.co.uk/50-toyota-mirai-join-green-tomato-cars-fleet.
      Thanks.

      1. Hi there, I live just south of Aberdeen, Scotland where there is a station. I contacted Toyota looking to find out a price etc but never got a reply. Come on Toyota.

        Maurice Coull

        1. Hi Maurice,

          Thanks for your interest in the Mirai. We apologise for a delay in your reply, we will look into this with the alternative fuels team.

          Thanks for your patience and we hope you hear from them soon.

  4. I live on the Isle of Man , it would be really good if we could have a refuelling plant here . We are only 86,000 population , spread mainly over 4 towns , Douglas , Ramsey , Castletown and Peel . I believe that there would be a huge support for such technology however we need to get the first refuelling station established .Mast families have 2 cars ,some even 3 , presently running on diesel and petrol so we have to go forward with this clean emission technology.

    1. Hi there,
      Thank you for getting in touch. There are specific practical and use considerations that may impact the Mirai ownership experience. We want to ensure maximum customer satisfaction and therefore the Mirai is only being sold directly by Toyota (GB) following full qualification of prospective customers based on journey type and proximity to refueling stations. We have sold 28 so far to private and fleet customers. We expect to see many more over the coming years.

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