Sure, Elon Musk is giving away Tesla patents to boost the battery-powered car industry, but don’t surprised if more established manufacturers politely decline his offer. Instead of batteries and electric charging stations, players like General Motors, Mercedes Honda and Toyota are focusing their efforts on a very different sort of fuel system: hydrogen. Toyota has just revealed that its first commercial hydrogen fuel cell model, a $69,000 sedan modelled on the earlier FCV concept car, will be ready for launch in the US and Europe in the summer of next year, with Japanese customers being able to buy it a couple of months earlier. By then, the hydrogen car and its refueling network may lag significantly behind Tesla’s all-electric offerings, which currently start at less than $60,000 for base model Tesla S including lifetime fuel costs, but Toyota and other hydrogen pioneers believe that they’ll eventually gain the upper hand, thanks to their technology’s promise of greater range and quicker refueling.
Whereas most Tesla Superchargers currently take more than an hour to deliver enough charge for a range of 300 miles, hydrogen fuel stations could pump hydrogen gas into a car’s tank in as little as five minutes. This gas is then gradually mixed with oxygen inside the car, producing an electro-chemical reaction that offers comparable cruising range to a tank of gas — around 430 miles, Toyota claims — with no waste products other than water vapor. If there’s a downside to hydrogen, it’s the complexity and cost of gathering, storing and delivering hydrogen at high pressure. Toyota says that it’ll only sell its new car in areas that have some level of hydrogen refueling infrastructure already. However, with Tesla Superchargers being so cheap to build and maintain (especially if they’re solar powered), Toyota may find that launching a commercial hydrogen fuel cell car might actually turn out to be the easy part, relative to ensuring that its customers are always near a fuel station.
Filed under: Transportation