December 8, 2023

The launch of fuel cell vehicles is reported to be scheduled by six car makers in 2015, which includes Tata Motors of India, the owners of Jaguar Land Rover. They are seen as crucial in bringing success to pure electric vehicles; however, the reality is different. Further details can be found within the IDTechEx report Future Technology for Hybrid and Pure Electric Cars 2015-2025.

Toyota was the first company to announce its involvement with all the information about its role in the Mirai. Toyota enthuses people since it’s ahead of the pack in EVs in general, having sales that are around four times that of the second position in the opinion of analysts IDTechEx. It was right to conclude that low-cost pure electric vehicles using batteries weren’t yet fully developed, and it was right to continue with hybrids. It has a good understanding of pure electric vehicles. It is the world’s leader in electric forklifts made of pure electricity.

But, Toyota is wrongly reported as “betting the shop” on fuel cell vehicles. In fact, the manager of Toyota, Satoshi Ogiso, previously claimed that their chairman, Mr. Takeshi Uchiyamada, who was responsible for the massively popular Prius hybrid in its wilderness years ten and also the person who developed the fuel cells of their vehicles, has become an iconic Don Quixote character.

Projects to roll out fuel cells around the globe are moderate and cautious. For instance, the European HyFive program is comprised of Toyota, BMW, Daimler, Honda, and Hyundai. The program only hopes to have 110 fuel-electric vehicles on the road with a contribution of $45 million.

It hasn’t been easy since the development of the first fuel cell in 1839. Despite Honda having the first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, and the Toyota FCEV Highlander being introduced in 2008, only a few numbers are being used. In fact, IDTechEx puts fuel cell vehicles at a mere one percent of all pure electric and hybrid cars that will be sold globally in 2024.

Franco Gonzalez, EV analyst at IDTechEx, explains that “Fuel cells will not be competitive with conventional engines in up-front cost for at least 15 years. Indeed, they need very expensive new hydrogen fuelling infrastructure in addition. “

He goes on to say, “The Germans may achieve that and the Californians are sprinkling 100 across the state by 2017 but that still means frequent diversions into further grid-locked roads to find the stuff. Fuel cells could eventually make sense for fleets such as forklifts and buses because providing their hydrogen refue?ling is trivial, given their fixed routes. Indeed, fuel cells are in about 8000 forklifts in the USA where hydrogen is cheaper. Reduced cost of ownership and no local pollution could become market drivers in closed systems”.

“While it is commendable that fuel cell car production costs have tumbled to the order of $100,000 each, that is still a long way from being competitive. Therefore we are not surprised that the Toyota Mirai fuel cell car, costing a premium $57,000 in the USA and PS63,104 in the UK before grants, is constrained to test levels of only 700 worldwide in 2015 despite initial orders for 1500. Only about 2,000 units will be very expensively made in 2016 and approximately 3,000 units in 2017 – then only tens of thousands in the 2020s, says Toyota”.

“So far, compared to a regular car, the fuel cell car offers bottom end range of only 300 miles, unimpressive acceleration and fuel cost, probably a poor resale price and diversion to refuel with the hydrogen from non-sustainable sources (just as electricity and gasoline to charge cars usually comes from non-sustainable sources). The Toyota Mirai is very much a work in progress with its poor headroom in the back due to passengers sitting on the large hydrogen tanks. Many find it ugly due to the huge air scoops at the front for the extra radiators cooling the fuel cell”.

“Meanwhile, the year is approaching when affordable battery cars arrive with the same lack of pollution at point of use, the same 300 miles range but acceptable resale price due to being simpler and lasting longer. In 2020, or not long after, that could provide lift-off in sales way beyond fuel cell cars. Indeed, fuel cell cars perpetuate the bad practice of putting platinum in a consumer product and they still need a supercapacitor or battery to do the heavy lifting. For example, the Toyota Mirai launched in 2015 has a 1.5kWh NiMH battery”.

“So far, fuel cells are usually only range extenders for hybrids though one day they may manage all load variations. Even then they will need separate devices to accept the energy harvesting from braking, shock absorbers and photovoltaics. “

IDTechEx is not likely to see Toyota making hybrid vehicles with advanced fuel extenders, which are less expensive to purchase and maintain than fuel cells and are easier to refill. The next question is whether or not to continue the large tax incentives for fuel cell vehicles as zero-carbon emissions at the point of use are possible using a purer electric battery or super battery vehicles, which require less investment. Indeed, the power used for charging the rival pure electric cars is becoming eco-friendly thanks to more green grid power and the increased usage of local solar and solar panels, even over the vehicle itself. In contrast, the cost-effective and readily accessible green hydrogen is still elusive.

In the IDTechEx report, Range Extenders to Electric Vehicles Land, Water & Air 2015-2025. Some alternatives to range extenders for hybrids other than fuel cells are beginning to be used by Toyota’s rivals in 2015, like the silent rotary combustion engine that is in the Proton hybrid vehicle, and some of these could be in use in 2020, as more advanced models such as the Libralato are introduced.

The options for range extenders could include multi-fuel microturbines (jet engines) or free-piston energy generators (no rotation of the generator itself is required). They could be used in greater quantities than the fuel cells found in automobiles in the future in the event that fuel cells that are open systems, such as cars, see an increase in overall cost of ownership as well as maintenance, convenience, and lifespan.


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