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Toyota’s Carter: we’re on the cusp of the automotive hydrogen age

In his talk at the 2014 J.P. Morgan Auto Conference in New York, Bob Carter, Toyota Motor Sales (USA) Senior Vice President, Automotive Operations said that the company in spending an average of more than $1 million an hour this year on R&D. Carter said that a prime example of the R&D focus is the hydrogen fuel cell sedan to be launched to the public in California next summer (earlier post) and, he suggested, thereafter to the East Coast.

Toyota’s basic stance on hydrogen is that fuel cell vehicles, in addition to offering high total energy (well-to-wheel) efficiency, are extremely versatile, with a long cruising range and a short fueling time. Carter noted that Toyota has reduced the cost of the fuel cell powertrain by 95% , and is confident it can reduce the cost further.

That leaves the issue of the hydrogen infrastructure, which, as Toyota has said often recently, needs to be developed.

In his talk, Carter acknowledged that US DOE estimates put the cost of hydrogen fuel initially higher than gasoline, but said that longer term the cost will come down and be more economical.

Based on those numbers, we estimate that to fill our fuel cell sedan to go 300 miles initially will cost about $50 and then go down to about $30. So our fuel cell vehicle is not only better for the environment, it may also be more economical to operate than conventional cars. In short, of all the advanced powertrain systems we have in our portfolio, we see hydrogen fuel cells as being THE no-compromise, primary-option vehicle for the next 100 years.

—Bob Carter

Working with the University of California, Toyota has modeled specific locations that will result in a 6-minute drive to a station for most owners. As a result, Toyota believes that just 68 stations will handle a population well in excess of 10,000 fuel cell vehicles.

The state of California has earmarked $200 million to build at least 100 new stations by 2024, with 40 of them to go online by the end of 2016. Toyota plans to help kick-start infrastructure through collaboration with regulators, energy providers and academia.

The company is putting up $7.2 million and entering into financial arrangements with First Element Energy and Linde LLC to support the long-term operation and maintenance expenses of new hydrogen refueling stations in California.

News about the East Coast may be coming in the future, Carter suggested.

This commitment to the fueling structure is “unprecedented” in automotive history, but we believe it’s a vital investment in the future. Today, we’re on the cusp of the “automotive hydrogen age” this is the chance to get in the ground floor on what we strongly believe will be the “Car of the Future”.

—Bob Carter



"high total energy (well-to-wheel) efficiency"

That's the problem with hydrogen vehicles in a few words.

If you're talking about a 'well' means you're still dependent on fossil fuels. Which is the the case for today's hydrogen vehicles: they run on H2 obtained from steam reforming methane. It has already been determined that methane leaks during drilling, production, transport, etc. offsets any climate benefit since methane is 30x as strong a greenhouse gas as CO2.

If you get H2 from electrolysis, then the 'efficiency' claim is in trouble, since the whole pathway of electricity --> electrolysis --> compression/liquefaction --> transport --> fuel cell --> electricity is way more inefficient than using the same electricity directly in a BEV.

But let's see the technologies battle it out. Maybe there's a market for both of them.


In the past I was positive about all of this but now I think that the car, the station and the hydrogen gas are very costly. We need a breakthrough to produce hydrogen more cheaply and sell the kilo at 2$-3$ approx. The best would be small machinery at the hydrogen station that produce the hydrogen on-site so no need for transport. We are still in the dark about hydrogen production because for all the stations and the upcoming stations they never explained how they produce the hydrogen and why a station cost as much as 2 millions.


I don't have the technical background to judge whether one technology is better than another but what amazes me is the resurgence of hydrogen fuel cells as a viable option for transportation. Only a few years ago fuel cells were pretty widely dismissed by posters at this website as being too expensive but given the interest shown by Toyota, Hyundai and the German manufacturers it seems pretty clear they believe fuel cells have a future.

It seems quite possible that there could be a game-changing break through in batteries or biofuels in the next few years so committing to fuel cells as Toyota has must require some faith.

Some argue that the Oilco's are pushing fuel cells and that may be true as they may enjoy a short reprieve but it seems more likely that the future will see fuel cell/electric hybrids and the electric portion will probably take a big bite out of the fossil fuel use.

Many of the big Oilco's suffered from the over-production of natural gas in the US over the past 4 or 5 years and they could not control that so I doubt if they'll be able to control the future of transportation, particularly with players like China who probably favor alternatives. China can be a major producer of renewable technology like solar and wind turbines as well as batteries and would also benefit from lower NG and oil while at the same time weakening Russia.

I also believe that if Toyota saw a future in solely BEV's they would go in that direction because in that way they'd cut out the oilco's from their share in the cost of ownership.


China is working on methanol from coal, an FCV can run on reformed methanol using an HTPEM. Oil companies have made a bundle since the price of oil quintupled in only 8 years. They used that money to buy into natural gas and now complain that the price is too low.

I believe in an "all the above stratagy". It will be BEV, FCV, synthetic fuels, hybrids and more. None of them nor all of them will displace oil in any significant way for decades. The oil companies have said so in shareholder meetings and they have the data to back that up.

Look at gasoline going from $1.50 to $4.00 per gallon in 8 years, people bought more gasoline than ever. Economists talks about price elasticity and demand, what kind of product to you know where you can double the price and people buy more than ever? It is a veritable gold mine and they will do whatever it takes to protect those enormous profits. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either not paying attention, ignoring the facts or both.



E-P/Et al:
A recent series run by one of the blogs cited ten myths about Hydrogen. All these are overshadowed by the following:
A University study concluded that a Battery Electric Vehicle is two and a half times (250%) more efficient than a Fuel Cell Vehicle. That's really all one needs to know to write off FCVs without even considering other factors, i.e., more expensive, oil company control of the market, dirty air, water, land and health risks, etc.

I'm sorry I can't find the link; but, I'll keep searching.

Rutherford Gnarlybone

Call me cynical but the push for hydrogen seems suddenly more earnest since the success of Tesla Motors. It's almost as if the big "they" will try to sell us that next in order to keep us at the pumps. Pretty big deal to a lot of very powerful people if lots of us start plugging in for our mobility needs rather than pumping fuels. I dunno ... it's just a thought. The non-cynical side of me thinks the future of mobility is just one where we have greater choice than we have now when it comes to energy for propulsion and this is an earnest attempt of finally bringing hydrogen mobility to more of us.


This feels like a panic move by H2 because BEVs are clearly on an upward trajectory.

Alan Parker

If even gor has changed his mind you know it's all over ;-)

Honda have gone quiet about their plans for next year.

Hyundai are bullish but it's lease only still, although I think I read they predict going from leasing about 1000 this year to selling 10,000 next year, not sure how that's going to happen.

Toyota, I think I read, have now stated it's lease only for next year and they also admit it won't be any cheaper to run than a gasoline car.


A PHEV with enough under floor batteries for 50 to 70 Km and an FC range extender could be an interesting compromise?

Such vehicle could run 80% to 90% of the time on low cost electricity and use quick fill H2 for long trips and in cold weather areas.

Bob Wallace

"... we estimate that to fill our fuel cell sedan to go 300 miles initially will cost about $50 and then go down to about $30 ...."

10 cents per mile.

An EV using 0.3 kWh/mile and charging with 12c/kWh electricity would be less than 4 cents per mile.

Since EVs will likely be dispatchable load they will likely get a better than average rate from utilities. And with the cost of new wind generation dropping below 4 cents per kWh that rate might be very sweet indeed.

It might cost 4x as much per mile to drive a H2 FCEV.

Alan Parker

Plugin fuel cell vehicles would make *much* more sense IMO.

Bob Wallace

Here's an interesting read on where the H2 refueling industry is right now.

A station that makes H2 from natural gas. Can refill 30 FCEVs in a ten hour day. (Producing the H2 is what slows things down.) Currently cost $4 million but they are hoping to get it down to $2 million.


Alan and Harvey,
At first glance, a PHEV with a fuel cell range extender might sound like an interesting idea. But that's an expensive solution to a problem that has already been solved with current PHEV and an ICE range extender.

Why wait for a more expensive solution, with the limitations of trying to find H2 to fill it up when 99% of the H2 in industrialized countries comes from reformed natural gas anyway.

There just is no advantage to it and so many disadvantages that it doesn't make sense.

Bob Wallace

There's a very interesting graph on this page (sorry we can't post graphs here).

It shows that with falling battery prices both hybrids and PHEVs are forced off the market. At roughly $275/kWh both hybrids and PHEVs drop out. And gas has to be < $3.50/gallon for ICEVs to stay in the game with batteries at ~$275.

And I've got to agree with DaveD. We've already got the gasoline infrastructure in place. If we wanted to have a rapid impact on our fuel usage we coule move about half of all drivers into EVs and the other half could use gasoline PHEVs with their fuel use cut by more than 75%. That would take our overall fuel use to less than 15% of what it now is.

And, based on the graph I linked, we're looking at only a short period in which PHEVs will be valid. Cheaper batteries with "superchargers" will like push them to extinction before we could get a H2 system up and running.


Lad claimed:
'A University study concluded that a Battery Electric Vehicle is two and a half times (250%) more efficient than a Fuel Cell Vehicle.'

Well, if 'A University study' which one doesn't matter, said so, then it is unarguably so, isn't it?

If you want to argue it, cite it.



David D argued:

' But that's an expensive solution to a problem that has already been solved with current PHEV and an ICE range extender.'

What exactly has been solved?
Not a ability to use a fuel such as hydrogen which can be got from many sources, not just oil.

Not zero pollution at point of use.

PHEV with ICE range extenders are clearly an interim solution, as everyone knows.

Now you may think that batteries will improve to far and fast that nothing else will be needed, but that is faith, not reason.

An FCEV PHEV is inherently superior to one marrying fundamentally different technologies of a combustion engine and electric power.


You don't alter the form of energy more than you can help.
So if electricity is available pretty well when you want to use it, fine.

EP and I would both simply build a lot of nuclear, which fits the bill well and would leave only a limited place for hydrogen as massive amounts of storage simply would not be needed.

If you want a heck of a lot of renewables in the system, then you have a massive storage problem.
That is going to be lossy however you do it, and those who are seriously trying it, such as Germany, can only balance the books at all by envisaging using hydrogen in huge quantities.

Or you can continue to burn huge amounts of fossil fuels as supposed 'back up' but in reality to provide most of the power with a light, ultra expensive green dressing which is actually what is happening in Germany right now, but at least they are trying to change it, and they need hydrogen to do it.


Batteries are too damned heavy. Witness the video of the Tesla S at Nurburgring. You can find it on YT.

Alan Parker

Hey guys, here comes DaveMart!

Alan Parker

Larzen - how many FCEV have gone around the Nurburgring? A fuel cell cannot provide rapid changes to power output so require a battery with around 1kwh of capacity but quite high power output to even produce 'ok' performance.


I am impressed with Tesla and the technology and the idea that you don't have to go to a place to tank up, and I know that we won't be driving the Ring anytime soon, and I think Musk and his engineers have done amazing work. It will make a great commuter car. Beyond that...?



Yep, a fuel cell car won't be setting any track records at the Nurburgring for speed anytime soon.

It can though travel a lot further.

The power to weight ratio for hydrogen including the weighty CF tank is still of the order of ten times better than we can do with batteries.

That is important for transport.


Yep, Alan, its me posting on a fuel cell and hydrogen thread again with the same old boring message that wishful thinking is not going to store electricity from solar and other renewables, and asserting that cars are running at the moment outside of the tropics on electricity is pretty well moonshine.

BTW, your last post seems to consist solely of 'I think I read somewhere....and then commenting as though it were an established fact.

Is it too much trouble to check and then post, instead of reeling off suppositions and half remembered stuff as though they constituted a coherent critique?


S/be: 'outside of the tropics on solar'

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