The Long Road to Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

Today’s reality of hydrogen-powered cars is the result of more than 20 years of research, development and testing
 

January 06, 2014
In 1999, at the Prius Environmental Preview in Washington, D.C., Takehisa Yaegashi, then Toyota Motor Corporation’s senior general manager, spoke about the viability of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

“We have already completed test runs for two experimental hydrogen fuel cell vehicles,” Yaegashi said. “One type, introduced in 1996, stores hydrogen obtained from outside sources. The other test unit, released in 1997, makes its own hydrogen from reformed methanol.”

In 2011, after millions of fuel cell fleet test miles, Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) Group Vice President Chris
Into the Distance – Toyota’s FCHV travels down the ALCAN Highway during a 2007 test drive spanning 2,300 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska to Vancouver, British Columbia.
 
Hostetter celebrated the opening of a hydrogen fueling station near TMS headquarters in Torrance, Calif.

“Fuel cell technology is viable and ready for the mass market,” Hostetter said. “Toyota plans to bring a fuel cell vehicle to market in 2015 or sooner. Whether powering a vehicle or lighting our campus, hydrogen will play a key role in Toyota’s future.”

Well, the future is almost here. Just as Hostetter said, Toyota plans to launch a fuel cell vehicle in 2015. The concept version of that car – the FCV Concept sedan, was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in November and made its North American debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier today.

But it took 21 years, a few handfuls of prototypes and countless tests to get to this point. How did Toyota get here? Let’s take a look:

1992 – Toyota begins developing fuel cell vehicles.

1996 – Toyota’s Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) is equipped with a fuel cell stack and a hydrogen-absorbing alloy tank.

2001 – Toyota and Hino Motors develop the FCHV-Bus1, a city bus that runs on compressed hydrogen.
 

 
Forward Progress – The FCHV-4 featured high-pressure hydrogen tanks and began testing on public roads in 2001.
 


 
2001 – Over an eight-month span, Toyota develops the FCHV-3, FCHV-4 and FCHV-5, adding a high-pressure hydrogen hybrid tank to the FCHV-4 and an onboard Clean Hydrocarbon Fuel reformer in the FCHV-5. Testing begins on public roads in the U.S. and Japan.

2002 – Toyota leases Highlander-based FCHVs to the Japanese government, the University of California, Irvine and the University of California, Davis for research and development.

2003 – Toyota premieres the FINE-S hydrogen fuel cell hybrid-electric concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

2003 – Toyota partners with the state government and several private industries in the hopes of establishing a network of hydrogen refueling stations in California. Convenient refueling is viewed as the major obstacle to bringing fuel cell vehicles to market.

2005 – The FCHV-Bus shuttles passengers during the 185-day Expo 2005 Aichi in Japan.

2007 – TMS engineers drive a Highlander-based Toyota FCHV 2,300 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska to
What a View – The FCHV takes a break during its trek from Alaska to Vancouver in 2007.
Vancouver, British Columbia. During the seven-day trek, the vehicle averaged more than 300 miles per tank of compressed hydrogen gas.

2009 –TMS engineers participate in a 331.5-mile round trip between Torrance, Calif., and San Diego. The Highlander-based FCHV achieves an estimate of 431 miles per tank of compressed hydrogen gas with a fuel economy of 68.3 miles/kg, the approximate equivalent of miles per gallon.

2012 – Toyota drives a fuel cell “test mule” thousands of miles in some of the most punishing climates in the United States. The “test mule’s” success on rigorous roadways confirms its durability and quality.

2013 – At the Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota displays the FCV Concept sedan, the practical concept of the fuel cell vehicle the company plans to launch in 2015.

Jan. 6, 2014 – The FCV Concept makes its North American debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

By Dan Nied

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