By on May 21, 2014

Toyota FCV Concept

After 20 years of pursuing a battery-powered future, Toyota has decided to take a different course powered by hydrogen.

Automotive News reports Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz says his company sees EVs’ viability “in a select way, in short-range vehicles that take you that extra mile, from the office to the train, or home to the train, as well as being used on large [corporate] campuses.” This view is reflected in the decision to end its purchase agreement with Tesla of battery packs for 2,600 RAV4 EVs over three years, which Lentz personally felt future investment into the agreement would be better spent developing hydrogen fuel cells instead.

Speaking of such things, Toyota’s commitment toward a hydrogen future includes a $7 million “arms-length” investment in FirstElement Fuel Inc. — the startup founded by former General Motors and Hyundai executive Joel Ewanick — in its plan to build 19 hydrogen fueling stations throughout California by the autumn of 2015. The automaker’s own research found that 68 stations would be needed in California to meet the needs of 10,000 fuel cell vehicle owners, 50 of which are expected to come online by the end of 2016.

Lentz says he hopes his company won’t be alone in developing the emerging market like it was when the Prius first arrived. So far, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are working on new fuel cell vehicles to help spur demand, the first of which are predicted to arrive in 2015.

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69 Comments on “Toyota Turns Away From Batteries, Toward Fuel Cells...”

  • avatar

    Looks like they took a design from pre-WWII and beat it with the ugly stick.

  • avatar

    Welcome to the Future gentlemen ! The Real future . Not the pretentious pretender vaporware virtual future of the EV /Hybrid who’s days are numbered and everyone knows it *

    First BMW … now Toyota [ in conjunction with BMW ] – Mercedes Benz [ w/Nissan Renault soon to follow ] – VW/Audi waiting in the wings . Heck ! The only ones not on the Hydrogen bandwagon is the ever clueless GM as well as for some odd reason …. Ford .

    Hydrogen ! Both ICE as well as Fuel Cell hydrogen . Why ? Well I’ve already explained about Big Oils interest in the success of hydrogen .. but heres one for the masses as well

    Got a 32 Deuce Ardun conversion flat head Hot Rod sitting in your garage ? Concerned that future government regulations may put an end to your driving it due to the pollution it emits ? No worries . Once its hit the mainstream a Hydrogen ICE conversion kit will be available … for according to BMWs figures …. around a grand !

    To paraphrase the line from “The Graduate” – “Just one word – Hydrogen”

    * [ if it were not for government mandates especially in the EU by self serving and out of touch politicians pushing an agenda they themselves stand to benefit from : the proliferation of EVs today would not exist as almost all manufactures with the exception of the ever out of touch GM and delusional TESLA have no interest in EV/Hybrids : preferring instead to invest their time money and manpower into bringing Hydrogen [ both in ICE as well as Fuel Cells ] into the mainstream . FYI ; Big Oil is behind it as well . Specifically because they stand to profit from it big time . And … What Big Oil Wants . Big Oil Gets ! Period ! ]

    • 0 avatar

      Hydrogen has been “the future” since I was my son’s age. Nothing fundamental has changed, so I’m betting it’s still going to be “the future” in the future.

      One thing that can change? I can go over to my local Nissan dealer (located near a shopping mall and a movie theater in “flyover country”) and buy myself an EV. Or I can go over to my local Toyota dealer and trade in my 10 year old hybrid for one of a half dozen models of newer Prius. That actually *has* changed.

      Toyota hasn’t announced any sort of technological or economic breakthrough on fuel cells, though, so I just can’t even try to pretend this new effort is going anywhere.

      The only appeal hydrogen has is that it could continue the old gas-stations-only business model in a hydrocarbon-constrained world. That’s not my idea of a good time, so I’ll take the EV, thanks.

      My first new-car purchase will almost certainly be an EV – there’s no point in paying new-car prices for gas guzzling technology of any sort. (I’ll Probabky keep my 10 year old minivan for the couple of weeks a year we take road trips, at least until the quick-charge infrastructure is fleshed out.)

      • 0 avatar

        Huh? Unless you are talking about fusion (“the power of the future, and always will be”), I think hydrogen has been a recent idiocy. Fuel cells might always be the “right way” to provide electricity, but hydrogen only seems to be a way to guarantee failure. Haven’t fuel cell promoters at least dealt with methanol for more realistic possibility of actual use?

        Hydrogen just isn’t worth it. About the only things it fuels are rockets, and even then only a few and only the upper stages (SpaceX isn’t developing anything with it).

        If hydrogen made any sense at all, why aren’t Airliners jumping up and down for hydrogen-powered planes? Uk-Australia planes can be [even slightly over] half fuel in weight, and hydrogen weighs something like 1/10th the weight of jet fuel (with much higher volume). But seriously, hydrogen sucks so much even this isn’t going to happen, even if it cuts weight by something like 40% in an aircraft.

    • 0 avatar

      Dear Lord… where to start… with the laughable idea that a seven million dollar “investment” is actually going to go very far beyond lip service, or on the deep, deep, DEEP rabbit hole down which manufacturers have poured billions of dollars into over the past four decades in pursuing a hydrogen future that has been ten years away for the past fifty years?

      With the huge energy negative profile of hydrogen, we’ll see hydrogen vehicles hit BEV numbers possibly… never.

      It’ll be a long, long time, even with dwindling oil supplies, before non-fossil fuel sourced hydrogen comes close to matching the price of gasoline.

      And this isn’t considering the cost of hydrogen fuel cells, or the dangers of ultra-high pressure liquid hydrogen storage.

    • 0 avatar

      Gm was HEAVILY playing with hydrogen in 06-09, 11-12, hell they showcased the hydrogen H2 after the brand had been dead 3 years.
      Producing a vehicle to run on hydrogen is childs play, which is probably why it took euro manufacturers so long after everyone else writ them off to try it. Producing large quantities of compressed hydrogen for CHEAP is the challenge, seeing how Euro manufacturers are always playing catch up, I see nothing to come from this.

    • 0 avatar

      The future past?:

    • 0 avatar

      Ford is definitely looking at hydrogen. I drove a fuel cell Focus years ago. Fuel cells will happen at some point in time. They just have to get the technology down to a price where it will cost about the same as a battery. When that will happen I don’t know. 10 years? 50 years? Your guess is as good as mine.

      Also, a fuel cell powered car is still an electric car. The battery is just replaced with a fuel cell.

      • 0 avatar

        I appreciate that we are going to drift into an argument that is mostly semantics but to me ‘Electric Vehicle’ is not just about the technology. It is a completely different concept to the ICEV that principally revolves around sustainability. I know that at the moment a good chunk of electricity is made from burning coal but the fact is that – if we wanted – we could pretty much all be powering our EV power needs from the roofs of our houses (with extra investment for the solar panels, of course).

        You just can’t do that with H2! Or you can (by electrolysis) but you would have to use as much energy making the stuff as you would using it. The overall efficiency side of FCEVs (if you must) is dreadful compared to BEVs. The only practical alternative is to crack H2 from natural gas – where 98% of H2 is currently derived. Maybe we’ll be able to develop cheap, sustainable H2 production using micro-organisms but economic mass production is a very long way off. Then you have still got to ship and store it…

        As for when the FC will be as cheap/practical as a battery, it doesn’t matter because FC tech will always be playing catch up with battery technology. These are just a tiny proportion of the problems with FCs – it is just an utterly moronic pipe dream that many companies have already wasted billions on only to give up and abandon it – and what have we to show for all that wasted time, talent and cash? You *still* can’t actually buy one! If Toyota doesn’t wake up to this it will be bust within 10 years.

        And I stick to my claim that if it has a tail-pipe it isn’t an EV!

        • 0 avatar

          Everything I’ve read says that the fuel cell is actually more efficient than the batteries we have today, disregarding the very high cost of fuel cell. Today’s batteries are remarkably inefficient and the biggest thing holding EVs back.

        • 0 avatar

          Do you live in France (nukes) or Iceland (geothermal)? Otherwise your electric “tailpipe” is just a smokestack in someone else’s backyard.

          Methanol->fuel cell->electricity->moving wheels makes sense. Electric makes sense (mostly for flexibility in letting the electric company find a workable fuel source).

    • 0 avatar

      Hydrogen has much lower well-to-wheel efficiency than battery power.

      Let’s assume it’s the future and we’re producing it with electrolysis from a power plant. I looked this up years ago, but that process is something like a 30% loss. You suffer a 20% loss liquifying it. It is very difficult (read: expensive) to transport, and you lose a few percent of your tank per day having it just sit there. Then once you get it in your fuel-cell electric car, you have to suffer losses again in the fuel cell. Also, fuel cells are still a lot more expensive than batteries. In the end, it takes something like 3x as much energy per mile as a pure electric. The only advantages of hydrogen is that it’s quick to fill your tank, and that tank is lighter and takes up a bit less space than batteries. Those advantages are quickly eroding, and there’s really no technology in the cards to fix them.

  • avatar

    I still want to know where the hydrogen’s going to come from.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s the most plentiful element in the universe!

      But, hydrogen is always attached to something else. No worries, we’ll just separate it from all the other stuff….but that requires lots of energy….

      Which we can get from Nuclear! – But that’s also difficult and expensive.

      So we can get Hydrogen from natural gas! That’s easier and it’s abundant – but releases carbon…..

      So yeah, that’s how we get the Hydrogen.

    • 0 avatar

      A mixture of sources. Initially fossil fuels will be one of the most common sources. Further down the line we’ll see hydrogen separated at desalinization plants using hydro-electric power and solar power. For further in-land sources we’ll probably opt for drawing it out of water going through the cleaning process at sewage treatment plants as well as small-scale development units that may eventually be used at homes or switching stations. You’re right, splitting hydrogen isn’t necessarily cheap but it can be surprisingly clean. Even now we’ve developed solar roads for long-term use that can be laid in non-heavy weight traffic zones to get excess power.

      Upfront costs is where these issues hit, not long-term where the price of fossil fuels hide.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Reformulated natural gas, piggybacking on NG pipeline infrastructure.

      How many cents per mile does H2 from NG cost?

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Toyota is betting on both energy storage technologies.

    A 7 million dollar wager doesn’t amount to a “turn away” for a mega corporation like Toyota. That’s less than the lawn mowing budget.

    Similarly, the scheduled sunset for a government-mandated small-run battery-electric car doesn’t mean that they’ve given up on batteries. California told them to build a certain number of electrics, and they did. Same as what Fiat did with the electric 500e.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, 7 million dollars is about 5 engineers for 5 years, plus the parts, space, and services necessary to build a prototype.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      Thank you,

      I was just about to point out that Toyota have been pretty agnostic about developing both kinds of technologies for at least the last decade, so keeping at it doesn’t seem to be a shift.

      I wonder how much of an effect the Solar Roadways people might have on things if they can get their idea to work?

  • avatar

    In my totalitarian government, we’d be 98% Nuclear – with smaller electronics powered by solar, wind and other renewable energy – and everyone would have either an EV or a Plug-in Hybrid or a fuel cell car that creates energy by splitting Hyodgren from Oxygen in water.

    BUT I – as the BELOVED LEADER – would be driving a Supercharged HEMI 300 HELLCAT and my motorcade would be all Jeep HELLCAT SRT’s.


    Because the rest of you gave me too much control and now I make the rules.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    BURNING hydrogen is hopefully not in anybody’s future. Using a hydrogen fuel cell to power your EV is an option, but with batteries you can store electricity generated from any source – even self-generated electricity. Unfortunately, producing hydrogen is energy intensive. I believe it can be separated from natural gas, and there is an argument for getting it from contaminated water. But on the face of it, any large scale disturbance of the natural water cycle is opening up a new can of worms and large power sucking natural gas processing plants, with the inherent political instability of natural gas delivery, make Hydrogen low on my list as a desirable gasoline substitute.

    • 0 avatar

      It makes more sense to think of Hydrogen as a single element battery. It isn’t really a fuel – it is a store of energy.

      It takes energy to separate hydrogen from the other elements that it is usually attached to. Splitting water, or getting it from methane both require lots of energy.

      It doesn’t really matter where the energy comes from – and when the hydrogen is burned, the resulting water vapor goes back into the water cycle.

      Does this make more sense the chemical batteries? The last 50 years say no. You can buy hybrid and pure EVs today based on batteries – not so for Hydrogen.

      • 0 avatar

        As far as energy balance, IIRC, getting it from natural gas is quite efficient & viable. However, it still produces CO2 & is based on fossil fuel, so it’s a fancy way of perpetuating the problems we supposedly are solving.

        Hydrogen from water results only about a third of the usable energy compared to simple batteries. I don’t see any way that this hydrogen source can catch up & pass batteries given this fact and the head start that batteries already have.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Hydrogen, even for fuel cells, is Lame with a capitol L. Basically, a hydrogen fuel cell is an inefficient battery (since its taking energy to create the hydrogen and that isn’t the most efficient operation in the world) with a very fast recharge time.

    Yet, really, you want to use the slow charging battery whenever possible, as it is far more efficient. And the “fast charger” you can use is called a gas-pump when you do need a fast charge.

    Thus IMO the ideal solution is much more like the BMW i3 ReX or a hypothetical Accord Hybrid with a 40+ mile range battery pack.

  • avatar

    So let me see, we have these possibilities for the magical hydrogen enabled future:

    1) Strip H from gasoline or other petrochemicals. I’m willing to bet the efficiency of burning the gasoline or equiv. directly is much higher. What do you do with the C left over when you strip H out of hydrocarbons?

    2) Strip H from natural gas. It’s gotta be higher efficiency to burn the natural gas directly. The conversions for ICE from gasoline to natural gas aren’t even all that difficult. What do you do with the C left over when you strip H out of hydrocarbons?

    3) Generate H by electrolysis from water: requires huge amounts of electricity which will be generated where? How? Maybe, by burning natural gas or oil, perhaps? Better to use the electricity to charge batteries.

    I notice that no one ever presents a total energy balance calculation for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

    It strikes me that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, whatever the source of the H, are a Jules Verne science project that Toyota are pursuing at a very low level of funding on the off-chance they will learn something useful. $7M (if I read it right) is trivial funding for a company that size. I think the real future for personal transportation will be in the areas that are heavily funded:

    – Electric power, for repetitive short trips
    – high efficiency ICE, probably combined with batteries (hybrids, as currently in mass production)
    – reduction of the current RIDICULOUS overpowering of ICE-only vehicles (come on, 250+ HP commuter econoboxes???) – see the CAFE standards, which even after lobbyist-neutering will end up driving this
    – reduction of total miles traveled in personal transportation by making public transportation increasingly useful in those areas where it makes sense (yes, this includes govt. subsidies, consider the massive govt. subsidization of our current fossil-fuel-intensive transportation paradigm).

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The era of hydrogen fuel cells will go down as one of the dumbest chapters in automotive history, for reasons others have articulated here.

  • avatar

    Yay a 4-door SVX, just what I always wanted (seriously though, that would have been cool).

    But I cannot tell what the open rear corner is supposed to be. What is that?

  • avatar

    Jeebus Cripes – Does this mean Fuel Cell powered cars have to look this fucking ugly? Now we know who’s hiring the designers from Ssang Yong.

  • avatar

    Toyota has figured out that battery density and recharge times are not problems that an automaker can fix, or that any research lab is going to fix anytime soon.

    In that sense, hydrogen does have more potential. If they can figure out how to make cheap, reliable fuel cells, then it will be possible to comply with the ZEV requirement. It doesn’t make much sense to convert natural gas into hydrogen just to power a vehicle, but that’s the regulator’s error, not Toyota’s.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup. Pick your vaporware: Hydrogen Fuel Cells, or magical nanoparticle batteries that recharge in minutes. I’ll believe either one exists when there are 10,000 on the road.

      It seems to me that Toyota is trying to avoid having all their eggs in one future tech basket. A wise choice.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Solid-oxide fuel cells, which can take hydrocarbons directly, make a lot more sense than hydrogen fuel cells.

      However, they need to come down to between 5 and 10 cents per Watt for automotive applications, and need to get at least 16kWh out of a gallon of gas (20kWh would be a lot better).

      AFAIK, the current pricing for SOFCs is about $1/Watt. Which is fine for stationary applications, but a 100kW automotive SOFC stack costing $100,000 is ludicrous.

  • avatar

    Breakthroughs sometimes come out of left field. Here’s an article on powering a fuel cell with sugar and tailored enzymes. Of course, its a desktop university experiment and needs to show scalability/reliability/durability/etc/etc and who knows what all else the writer didn’t ask about or comprehend. Still, a novel-sounding approach.

  • avatar

    The real issue is fill ups. Who ever can get the most stations online first will win. I’d bet electric, but I’m just guessing.

  • avatar

    … So far, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are working on new fuel cell vehicles to help spur demand…

    And General Motors, Mercedes, BMW…

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Currently the best fuel cell in the world is called a ‘gas/petrol/diesel tank’.

    I wonder how many tax dollars globally will be wasted on this nonsense.

    When the time arises for it’s need we will make it happen, until then lets enjoy what we have.

  • avatar

    Hydrogen from nuclear power. Nuclear is not sexy, but it’s low cost, produces lots of power, releases no greenhouse gas and it’s a “today” technology, not some hypothetical “in the future” thing. Later this can transitioned to thorium.

    • 0 avatar

      But has the potential to kill millions, permanently alter your DNA, and is currently poisoning the Pacific Ocean. No thanks.

      • 0 avatar

        Coal has killed millions more over the centuries than nuclear. From mine disasters, to polluted air of the industrial revolution, to accidents were polluted water somehow got into the drinking supply…

        Nuclear isn’t perfect but it has to be part of the equation if we’re trying to move to a post oil world.

      • 0 avatar

        An excellent presentation on radiation hazards can be found here:

        I have a lot of trouble with the poisoning the whole Pacific claim – is a lot more reasoned than typical journo and enviro hoohah.

        Not excusing TEPCO at all. If TEPCO were a car manufacturer, they’d be making Wartburgs…..

      • 0 avatar

        And don’t forget give you a permanent orange Afro.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        More radiation has been released by coal burning than by nuclear plants.

        I would bet that more radiation is released by coal burning in a short time frame (several years) than by all nuclear reactor accidents in history.

        The good news is, there’s >7x the energy in the thorium in an average ton of coal than there is in the coal itself. So in theory, you could burn the coal, capture all of its tailings and exhaust, extract the thorium, enrich and fission it in a LFTR, then use process heat to convert all the coal ash and exhaust gas into liquid fuels, fertilizers, plastics, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      It is fairly clean. It is not low cost. The US gov’t made all kinds of guarantees and loans available to US utilities to build new reactors. Exactly one (Southern Company) took them up on the offer.

      Those of us who have Georgia Power as our electric supplier are already paying for the new reactor even though it is probably four years from coming online. Our very generous Public Service Commission is allowing them to bill us for the interest on the construction cost even though many of us will have moved away or will no longer be living when the unit starts production.

      In any case, nuclear generated electricity is too expensive to use to produce hydrogen. Battery storage is much more efficient and cost effective.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s true that in absolute terms, nuclear energy is not low cost. However, taking into consideration the cost of other non-petroleum energy options (hydro, solar, geothermal, wind etc.) the cost is in fact very low.

        The US EIA agrees. Here is a link to the 2014 Energy Outlook they published. Take note of the pre and post subsidy cost per MWh of nuclear vs. other energy sources. Nuclear has an advantage in both categories.

  • avatar

    I just want to be the first (today) to mention Thorium.

  • avatar

    The real concern is that this isn’t a research project for Toyota. The attention span of most here can be likened to that of a gnat, because Toyota have been saying they are going to roll out a fuel cell car next year (2015) for two years now. This was duly reported on TTAC.

    The concern is, as has been beaten to death on this blog about half a dozen times over the last 5 years, and again today is the idiocy of using hydrogen, itself a manufactured product rather than a primary source, just like electricity. That’s why if I were world dictator, EVs and fuel cell cars would be forbidden. Jusr stupid to use such pure manufactured product to power and trundle around with in a vehicle.

    The present day world has lost all logic.

  • avatar

    “Toyota Turns Away From Batteries, Toward Fuel Cells”

    But Toyota hasn’t turned away from building UGLY cars

  • avatar

    15 miles from my location, there’s a Supercharger that can put 170 miles (80%) into a Model S in 30 minutes.
    This is based on existing (I daresay “old”) technology – it’s only going to get better from here.
    Fuel cells (along with the 3000psi hydrogen tank) belong in spacecraft; possibly could be useful in a transit bus scenario, but it’s just plain silly except for people in a big friggin’ hurry who are holding on to the “Gas Station” model for transportation fueling.
    I could see this if a smartly-uniformed attendant cleaned your windshield, and gave you a big “thumbs-up” as you drove off…

    And seeing your grandma struggling with a high-pressure H2 hose connector (cringe).

  • avatar

    Well, I’m extremely uncertain about all this, but I notice that a lot of people seem to think they know better than Toyota engineers, and express some vague idea that there’s a fundamental flaw with Hydrogen fuel. But they never express why it is they think Toyota hasn’t thought of these flaws, and they don’t quantify exactly how much more flawed it is than batteries. You have to keep in mind that transporting electricity and charging batteries isn’t “free” either, there’s energy lost along the way, just as there’s energy lost when generating and transporting hydrogen. The real question is which one will turn out to be more efficient as the technology is developed in the future.

    • 0 avatar

      Hydrogen is an incredibly useful fuel and the technology is already there to use it for mobility. The advancements in storage density have also served as stark evidence that battery electrics should have remained in the history books. Bringing them back makes as much sense as trying to replace petroleum with whale blubber, but that doesn’t really have much to do with hydrogen. The problem with hydrogen is it looks far more like a way to store energy than a source of energy. Separating it from its common compounds is too energy intensive, and that’s where the breakthroughs need to come.

    • 0 avatar

      Basically… the fundamental flaw is the same fundamental flaw as with battery electrics. Hydrogen fuel is a carrier, not an energy source. And to make that carrier takes a lot of energy. In some limited applications, it makes sense, but for automotive applications, it’s problematic.

      We don’t *know* better than the engineers working on them. But then again, Toyota also knows that hydrogen is not ready for prime time. As we’ve pointed out, seven million is basically lip service in terms of research funding (As Luke points out… that’s a couple of engineers for a few years, plus materials for a small scale project… it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of millions spent on developing a new gasoline engine.

      And Toyota has, so far, not built hydrogen vehicles for sale. They built hybrids and sold them at a loss for several years before they finally became profitable. But that venture was helped by government tax breaks and support.

      We don’t know any better than the researchers and engineers working on Nuclear Fusion… but that doesn’t stop research facilities from pouring billions into reactors that have been fifty years away from commercial viability for the past fifty years, either.

  • avatar

    I might be the only one here who likes the look of this concept car.
    Nuclear is expensive, not because of the cost of infrastructure but the cost of insuring against the remote possibility of catastrophic failure. If you had a comfortable, smelly coal fired power station and were looking to replace it, would you take the risk?

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