Toyota introduces first fuel cell for testing on US roads

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) has demonstrated what it describes as a space-age fuel cell vehicle that generates its own on-board electricity with compressed hydrogen.

Based on the new Highlander SUV, the FCHV-4 (fuel cell hybrid vehicle) is the first Toyota fuel cell to make it onto US roads.

Modelled on the five-passenger Highlander, it features a proprietary high-output 90-kilowatt Toyota FC Stack, which is no larger than a conventional petrol engine.

The fuel cell stack also works in tandem with a secondary nickel-metal hydride battery to give the vehicle regenerative braking and other attributes derived from its hybrid system.

According to a statement, Toyota engineers succeeded in giving the FCHV-4 three times the vehicle efficiency of an ordinary petrol-powered car.

Under the rear cargo deck, there are four high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks. Each tank has a maximum storage pressure of 3,600 PSI (25 MPa), which Toyota hopes to increase for improved cruising range.

Toyota is already conducting road tests in Japan with five FCHV-4s, which have accumulated more than 3,000 miles.

Norihiko Nakamura, an executive advisory engineer responsible for Toyota’s fuel cell development cautioned that it will be at least 10 years before any manufacturer has a fuel cell ready for mass marketing to consumers.

He based his forecast on a number of problems that have not yet been solved, such as improving energy efficiency levels, perfecting on-board hydrogen storage, developing systems that use a variety of fuels and establishing an infrastructure for distribution of the fuels.

In addition to hydrogen, Toyota is looking at several other fuel sources, including natural gas, methanol and a relatively new concept called clean hydrocarbon fuel (CHF), which can be made from petroleum or other resources such as natural gas and coal, will also work in current gasoline-powered cars.

As petroleum resources become increasingly scarce in the years ahead, Nakamura predicts that fuel cell vehicles will be the majority of automobiles in use.

Although many improvements must be made by all manufacturers before mass marketing is feasible, Toyota’s FCHV-4 is said to be a good indication of what fuel cell vehicles may be like.

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