Hydrogen-powered cars are set to become an increasingly common sight on UK roads by 2020, as new models are announced and infrastructure investment plans are revealed.
Leading motoring manufacturers are preparing to launch hydrogen-powered cars within the next two years. Toyota, Honda, Audi and Volkswagen are all developing new models, while a handful of Hyundai vehicles are already available in the UK. The fuel-cells in hydrogen cars generate electricity by combining hydrogen, stored in high-pressure tanks, and oxygen. Only water is emitted from the exhaust. They aim to cover up to 300 miles before needing to be refueled, which takes just a few minutes at a pump; whereas battery-powered electric cars may take hours to recharge and most have a decreased range.
The Toyota Mirai, meaning ‘future’ in Japanese, is launching in Japan on December 15th and is set to be the world’s first mass-produced fuel-cell car. From mid-2015, it aims to be available in Europe, mainly the UK and Germany, and Toyota plans to produce “tens of thousands” by the 2020s. The Mirai aims to be capable of travelling up to 650 kilometers without refueling, three times further than a traditional electric car. The hydrogen tanks are also filled in a few minutes like petrol and diesel vehicles.
Mitsushisa Kato, executive vice president of Toyota, said that Mirai marks a milestone in motoring technology: “The Mirai symbolises two major innovations. First, this is an innovative way to solve global environmental and energy problems and second, this innovation may help to usher in a hydrogen-based society.” Meanwhile, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said in a video message on the companies website: “We are at a turning point in the automotive industry.” Japan is currently the world leader in the green car sector, being the home to manufacturers like Honda and Nissan. The country’s seven car manufacturers are reportedly planning to spend up to $24 billion in research this year alone. Honda also aims to launch a commercial fuel-cell vehicle in March 2016. Honda already makes the FCX Clarity, a fuel-cell car produced on a small scale for a few markets.
Next year, Toyota says it aims to bring the price down for hydrogen-powered vehicles and up the number of hydrogen refueling stations to 100. At the moment there only a few dozen hydrogen filling stations in the world, found mainly in developed countries. Toyota already produces the fast-selling and successful Prius, a petrol-electric hybrid, which has already sold over 3 million units since its introduction in 1997.
Yoshikazu Tanaku, the Deputy Chief Engineer for Toyota’s next generation vehicle department, said: “It was a big challenge when we first introduced the Prius (hybrid car) in 1997 and it has had great success. It’s an even bigger challenge this time and we’re trying to lead and be proactive.”
In October during a trip to Japan, minister for business and enterprise, Matthew Hancock, announced up to £11 million to help prepare the UK for hydrogen-powered cars. He said at the time: “We want to make the UK one of the best places in the world to design, manufacture and sell ultra-low emission vehicles.” The money aims to be used to set up 15 hydrogen refueling stations by the end of 2015 and also includes £2 million for public sector hydrogen vehicles. At the time, Kit Malthouse, the deputy mayor of London for business and enterprise, predicted that hydrogen fuel-cell technology “may eventually replace the internal combustion engine.”
In 2013 the UKH2Mobility project, which involved 12 industry parties and three government departments, recommended an initial network of 65 stations to serve population centres and major roads. It said that the number might grow to 1,150 by 2030. Japan, Germany, Scandinavia and California all have ambitious programmes for hydrogen refueling networks.
What might motoring and transportation in the future resemble?