2023 Author: Eric Donovan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-27 05:39
When it comes to hybrid drives, Toyota has shown extremely long stamina. Now the world's largest automaker is trying to prove its steadfastness with hydrogen propulsion.
By Thomas Flehmer
history repeats itself. You have been ridiculed for a long time - especially by German manufacturers. Not only when Toyota launched the first Prius in 1997, but also seven years later, when the VW boss at the time, Bernd Pischetsrieder, described hybrid vehicles as a “disaster in the overall ecological balance”. Eleven years later, Toyota and the noble offshoot Lexus have sold over eight million hybrids and, thanks to the large series production, can offer the cars at the price of diesel vehicles, while other manufacturers still pay dearly for the great expense of the small series. "We are through with the issue of 95 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer," says Dirk Breuer, press officer technology at Toyota, "we are already working on the next goal."
Slow growth of hydrogen filling stations
Now the Japanese are once again pioneering the Mirai - this time together with Hyundai, which also manufactures and sells a fuel cell car in series, the ix35, from which only hydrogen escapes, while others are still asking about the “chicken or the Egg “hovers in the back of your mind. Because one cannot speak of a proper infrastructure given the only 15 filling stations in Germany. After all, up to 50 filling stations are planned for the coming year. "In 2023, 400 filling stations should cover the network," says Jessica Becker from the National Organization for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW).
At Toyota, they know that patience is again required. “The volume is still ten years away. It's like the hybrid,”says Breuer. Currently, three Mirai are made a day, almost entirely by hand. "By 2017, 3,000 vehicles a year should leave the plant."
Mirai body is built around the tank
The Japanese are also heavily involved in the Prius, which also has an electric motor under the hood - like the Mirai. “Only the tank and the fuel cell are new,” says Breuer. However, the futuristic body - Mirai is the Japanese word for future - was "built especially for the tank."
During the development phase, the engineers reduced the polymer electrolyte fuel cell to a volume from 64 to 37 liters and the number of hydrogen tanks from four reduced to two. Five kilograms of storage capacity are now sufficient for a range of 500 kilometers. This means that Germany could already be crossed today - without fear of getting stuck.
Don't be afraid of hydrogen
For Gerd Lottsiepen, fears also play a role in the success of fuel cell vehicles. The transport policy spokesman for the ecological transport club in Germany (VCD) sees too much respect for innovations among Germans - and that also applies to vehicles that do not have the VW or Mercedes emblem on the hood.
When it comes to security, of course, the aspects of explosion and underground parking - as was the case with gas vehicles in the past - are practically resubmitted. Fears that, according to Breuer, are unjustified. “Hydrogen is 14 times lighter than air. If hydrogen should escape, it will float upwards and cannot ignite. On the other hand, fossil fuels splash down and under the car and can then catch fire.”Driving in underground garages is not forbidden and certainly not dangerous to health.
Numerous components from the Toyota Prius
One obstacle is of course the price of 78,580 euros or 999 euros monthly leasing rates. Here, too, there are parallels to the hybrid, the technology of which was also more expensive in the beginning and is now leveling off. Werner Diwald, CEO of the German Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (DWV) is certain that prices will soon go down. "The components are no more expensive than other components, and many parts from the Prius are also used for the Mirai."
Diwald also sees great advantages in hydrogen. By the year 2050, the electricity should come from renewable energies, and hydrogen can also be gained and stored at windy times due to the overcapacity of electricity. “Hydrogen does not need an energy transition,” says Diwald, “but is part of the evolution of the energy transition. The long-term route will be via hydrogen.”In the future, electricity will be needed more than oil and coal.
Long way to go to the hydrogen age
At the same time, Diwald points out that the current oil and thus also fuel prices will settle in other spheres in a few years' time. An equally weighty argument is that with hydrogen as an energy carrier, independence from crude oil or gas can be achieved. And the very good CO2 balance - in hydrogen vehicles only water comes out of the exhaust pipe - is another argument.
Despite the arguments, the road will still be a long one. “I don't see the fuel cell going to be a sales success in the near future,” says Lottsiepen. Technology is good. “ Mercedeshad already promised a fleet for 2004. Let's see if it will be something with 2017. Toyota has once again easily overtaken everyone on the left. If the market were there, Toyota would be the first manufacturer to mass-produce fuel cell cars.”History seems to be repeating itself.
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