By on January 27, 2011

Yesterday, I changed my base of operations to Tokyo for a month to escape the Chinese New Year festivities (i.e. one month of WW III worthy fireworks, combined with closed shops and restaurants.) If I would have stuck it out a few days longer, I could have enjoyed a ride in a fuel cell vehicle.

Starting on January 29, Toyota Motor will provide “TOYOTA FCHV-adv” (as in “fuel cell hybrid vehicle-advanced”) vehicles to a new car service from Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Toyota is acting upon a request from the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology (HySUT), a participant in the Hydrogen Highway Project run by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

Toyota has already provided a hydrogen-powered bus for use on a commercial route between central Tokyo and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The idea is to gather data for the big hydrogen roll-out in 2015.

Detailed data of the still experimental FCHV-adv can be found in the Toyota press release. The car uses the same core hybrid synergy drive as the Toyota Prius, except that the power is delivered by a hydrogen-fed fuel cell. What is most impressive: Despite the definite SUV-like characteristics of the vehicle (the FCHV-adv is based on a Toyota Highlander), there will be not even the slightest pang of range anxiety in this car. With a full high-pressure tank of hydrogen, it can go for 830km (515 miles) before it needs a fill-up.

No, there is no on-board toilet.

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10 Comments on “On Your Next Trip To Tokyo, Take the Fuel Cell Car...”

  • avatar

    You can always do a Lisa Novak and wear space diapers, or carefuly use little John that some private pilots use

  • avatar
    Tree Trunk

    Fuel cells have been around for awhile, the problem has always been price and reliability.

    They can certainly build a nice functioning test vehicles for a million $ a piece or what ever the cost may be, but until that price comes down from the sky they have little practical value. 

    • 0 avatar
      Tricky Dicky

      Isn’t the point here not the basic obstacles for the adoption and acceptance of this technology, but that the world’s largest automanufacturer (at the moment) has started the process of doing real world testing of the technology and commercialisation possibilities. A company which has a reputation built on a willingness to pioneer environmental auto technologies ahead of the market?
      This is an important marker that one of the early stages towards FCHV has passed. That’s all.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      Price. Fuel cells, of the type used in cars*, use platinum catalysts. Platinum is $1790/oz.
      Another problem is hydrogen.
      Hydrogen, even liquid hydrogen, is so light that any given volume of it carries very little energy.
      One liter of liquid hydrogen contains 71 grams of hydrogen. On liter of gasoline contains 118 grams of hydrogen, and on liter of diesel, 130 grams.
      Of course liquid hydrogen costs lots of energy to make, is difficult to store (it will leak out of any container in a matter of days), and is 423 degrees F below zero, so be careful when handling it.
      Compressed hydrogen is less dense than liquid, and kaboom.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Without any idea how a hydrogen-driven engine performs under different conditions or what it might cost to fill the tank, it’s hard to evaluate that mileage. Ah… 156L of hydrogen… so the “fuel tank” isn’t much larger than the 30 gallon tank in my Suburban, for roughly equivalent mileage. That’s interesting. I can’t say a 515 mile range is as impressive as Bertel seems to find it. My Suburban can do nearly 500 miles on a full tank of the cheapest, crappiest (low-corn) gasoline I can get my hands on. I bet if I actually paid attention to the mileage (easy on the gas pedal, etc) I could easily manage 515 miles. With an engine that has far more power available, in a truck that is larger and seats more people, etc.
    Which doesn’t mean I’m opposed to hydrogen vehicles. I think it’s the most interesting of the alternative energy options — if the fuel is as cheap as one might expect hydrogen to be. I do wonder how people will react to things like the inevitable and relatively quick leak-down of the fuel system. I read somewhere that a fully fueled hydrogen vehicle will leak almost the entire fuel-load from sitting idle for just a week. Those are damned tiny atoms stored under enormous pressure, and we’ll just never seal up any consumer-grade system well enough to prevent it. How will Joe Sixpack react? What happens when you park the car with low fuel on a Friday evening, spend the weekend at home, and the tank is empty on Monday morning?
    It’ll also be interesting to see how they’ve solved the long-term problems, hydrogen embrittlement in particular…

    • 0 avatar

      The tanks may be of similar internal size (156L = 41 gallons), but the hydrogen tank may be larger actual size due to sturdier construction. There are 4 tanks in the FCHV-adv; it doesn’t lose any interior room to the tanks, with the exception of the loss of the third row seat.
      68.4 mi/kg H2. Best electrolysis methods now give 50-80 kwh/kg of H2, so efficiency ranges from 1.37 mi/kwh to 0.86 mi/kwh. Producing hydrogen gas through steam reformation is substantially more efficient, so it may not be a fair comparison.
      Here’s a source that quotes $10/kg for refilling. That’s 15c/mile, competitive perhaps with a 20 mpg car guzzling $3/gal fuel. And no doubt prices will come down, eventually.
      But compare to the Nissan Leaf, which is 3-3.2 mi/kwh. National electricity rates are 12c/kwh, so the Leaf is about 4c/mile to fuel. (3c/mile where I live).

  • avatar

    I’ll stick to the Narita Express; that of the friendly lady with the cart full of interesting food and drinks…and not having to deal with road traffic.

  • avatar

    Story is only worth a yawn.  Fuel cell vehicles are out there.  Have been for awhile.  Toyota isn’t the first to do this.  But I do have a question.  Is this Toyota’s first fuel cell vehicle?

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