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Toyota Looks to Expand Production & Lower Costs of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

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【Summary】Although much of the automotive industry has dismissed hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars as commercially inviable and too expensive, Toyota is forging ahead with plans to improve its Mirai, its first fuel cell car. The Mirai was introduced to the U.S. market in 2015. Toyota says it can popularize fuel cell vehicles in part by making them more affordable.

Jeremy Carlton    Jul 26, 2018 12:21 PM PT
Toyota Looks to Expand Production & Lower Costs of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

Toyota Motor Corp in increasing its investment in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), designing lower-cost, mass-market passenger cars and SUVs and pushing the technology into buses and trucks to build economies of scale, Reuters has reported.

Although much of the automotive industry has dismissed hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars as commercially inviable and too expensive, Toyota is forging ahead with plans to improve its Mirai, its first fuel cell car. The Mirai was introduced to the U.S. market in 2015. Toyota says it can popularize FCVs in part by making them more affordable.

Fuel cell vehicles work by combining hydrogen and oxygen together in a fuel cell stack. Though a chemical reaction, the hydrogen and oxygen mixture produces electricity, which is then used to recharge the vehicles battery or supply power to the electric motor. Fuel cell vehicles are entirely emission free, the only byproduct of the process is water.

Toyota is planning a phased introduction of other FCV models, including a range of SUVs, pickup trucks, as well as commercial trucks beginning around 2025, a source with knowledge of the automaker's plans said.

The automaker declined to comment on specific future product plans. But it has developed FCV prototypes of small delivery vehicles and large transport trucks based on models already on the road.

"We're going to use as many parts from existing passenger cars and other models as possible in fuel cell trucks," said Ikuo Ota to Reuters, manager of new business planning for fuel cell projects at Toyota. "Otherwise, we won't see the benefits of mass production."

Toyota Working to Deliver Longer Range

The company is also woking to improve performance. Toyota wants to increase the the driving range of the next Mirai to reach around 450 miles (750 kilometers). The current Mirai has a range of 310 miles. A another source told Reuters the company plans on increasing the vehicle's range even further, to over 600 miles.

While the rest of the auto industry shifts its focus to battery-powered vehicles, Toyota believes that hydrogen will become a key source of clean energy in the next 100 years. The company has been working on fuel cell technology since the early 1990's. Japan's Honda and South Korean automaker Hyundai also produce FCVs.

Lowering the Cost of Fuel Cells

Strategic Analysis Inc, which has analyzed costs of FCVs including the Toyota Mirai, estimates that it costs Toyota about $11,000 to produce each of its fuel cell stacks. As Toyota scales up production to 30,000 units the price is predicted to fall to $8,000.

For comparison, a lithium-ion battery pack for a electric car averages around $190 per kWh. The 50 kWh battery in the base model Tesla Model 3 is rated at 50 kWh, costing nearly $9,500, about a quarter of price of the car.

The Mirai's high production costs are largely due to expensive materials including platinum, titanium and carbon fiber used in the fuel cell and hydrogen storage systems.

Engineers have been reducing that by improving the platinum catalyst, a key component in the 370 layered cells in the fuel cell stack, which facilitates the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen that produces electricity.

"We've been able to decrease the platinum loading by 10 percent to 20 percent and deliver the same performance," said Eri Ichikawa to Reuters, a fuel cell engineer at Cataler Corp, a Toyota subsidiary.

Strategic Analysis says using that much less of the precious metal would save up to $300 per fuel cell stack, based on an estimate that Toyota now uses about 30 grams of platinum per unit.

"We're going to shift from limited production to mass production, reduce the amount of expensive materials like platinum used in FCV components, and make the system more compact and powerful," Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of the Mirai, said in an interview with Reuters.

"By consistently focusing on these issues, we will be able to progressively lower the cost of FCVs in the future," Tanaka added.

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