By on January 23, 2013

Will meet again: Fröhlich and Uchiyamada

Rumors are floating around in Tokyo that Toyota and BMW are about to enter an agreement where Toyota will provide its fuel cell technology to the Bavarian maker. The Nikkei [sub] says BMW plans to build a hydrogen prototype by 2015, and wants to have a hydrogen car ready for market by 2020. Other carmakers,  Toyota included, plan a limited market release in the “hydrogen year” 2015, with hopes for volume production by 2020.

Toyota spokesfolk did not want to comment, then sent out an invitation for a press conference tomorrow, Thursday, in Nagoya. BMW also happens to be there. Looking at the  executives in attendance, it does not appear like a meeting where joint windshield wiper procurement is discussed: On the BMW side will be Klaus Fröhlich, Strategy SVP at BMW and chief ideologue, along with development chief Dr. Herbert Diess. The Toyota side will be similarly high tech-laden with  Toyota’s “father of the Prius” Takeshi Uchiyamada in attendance. Yasumori Ihara will represent Toyota Purchasing and the board. TTAC will also be there.

The move does not come as a surprise to us. Last June, we told you that “BMW will get access to Toyota’s fuel cell technologies” and that this will be “the end of the fuel cell cooperation between BMW and GM.” We told you that Toyota is far ahead with the technology. TTAC even had a short hydrogen-powered test ride through the scenic warehouse landscape of Torrance, CA. We told you that current fuel cell technology is big, bulky, heavy and expensive, and that Toyota is working on bringing package size and price down to tolerable levels. We’ll know more tomorrow.

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9 Comments on “Toyota And BMW To Announce Hydrogen-Alliance...”


  • avatar
    L'avventura

    With the current shale gas boom in the US, the economics and impetus for hydrogen certainly has changed. Obama’s second-term DOE policy is heavily tilted towards natural gas resources & hydrogen fuel cells that can exploit it.

    Toyota is “is far ahead with the technology” because, not only are they developing the fuel cell stack in-house, but primarily because they are designing and building the dedicated automation, machinery, and robotics that would be needed for mass production.

    Its a very mundane Toyota-like approach of focusing on the production process. Toyota goal is to cut fuel cell technology costs to 1/10th of where they are now to make it commercially viable.

    This approach may pay dividends for Toyota, and what may be attractive to BMW (who has had many options for partners).

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Fuel cells will not be a significant automotive technology unitl the issue of on board storage is solved. Now, hydrogen is stored as a high pressure (200-300 bar) gas in heavy steel or composite tanks that add weight and limit range.
    What’s needed is a light weight means to store 5-10 lbs of H2 at low pressue. Without this, fuel cells are DOA for the mass market.

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      Felix,

      The likely alternative to direct storage of diatomic hydrogen (H2), a problem which IMHO is not likely to be solved within our lifetimes, is to store the hydrogen in compound and reform it to hydrogen at the fuel cell. The easiest way to do this is as Methane, the primary component of natural gas. Developing reformation technology and/or fuel cell stacks that can either be cleaned of carbon contamination or have contaminated portions cheaply/easily replaced eliminates the hydrogen storage and leakage problem for the more conventional problem of natural gas storage.

      If I’m not mistaken there have already been commercial ventures operating fixed-location generators using natural gas with fuel cells…Google was using quite a few of them and I had read they had inexpensive ceramic catalysts in the stack that could be replaced when they became contaminated from using natural gas instead of diatomic hydrogen gas.

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      A low-pressure tank really isn’t any option as energy stored would also be dramatically reduced. Toyota’s range targets are 300+ miles and they use a 70 MPa tank (which is 700 bars).

      Based on what is made public, Toyota’s game plan is to reduce the cost of manufacturing a CFRP hydrogen tank.

      First, is to reduce CFRP costs, they’ve developed a technique that uses a general-purpose grade CFRP rather than aviation grade. Secondly, they’ve developed a high-speed winding machine that automates the process of wrapping the tank with CFRP(think a small-scale version of that Lexus carbon-fiber loom).

      As mass production is 10+ years off, carbon fiber technology should advance further, and prices should drop dramatically.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    There are no pure hydrogen molecules on earth. Hydrogen is very abundant, but is tightly bonded with other elements. Reversing that chemical bond takes a lot of energy.

    Methane appears to be the least inefficent method of obtaining pure hydrogen.
    Reforming hydrogen from methane removes the carbon molecule. This has two drawbacks:

    1- How are you going to eventually dispose of all the carbon? Burn it?

    2- The energy released from oxydizing carbon is very large. Removing the carbon molecule means that you’ve lost a significant amount of useful energy from methane.

    Hydrogen-fueled vehicles are an even longer stretch of the imagination than a pure battery powered vehicle. This is an example of green extremism gone amok.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “This is an example of green extremism gone amok.”

      That’s non-sense. It’s ridiculous to suggest that merely researching alternative fuels is green extremism. No one is forcing anyone to use it.

      BMW has been working on a hydrogen-based Siebener for a long time — makes sense that they’d team up with Toyota on this.

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    Deja vu. I feel like I’ve seen the same stories and had the same discussion in 2001.


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