Toyota’s pioneering FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle) is making it’s European debut at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show. Yoshikazu Tanaka is the man in charge of development for fuel cell vehicles at Toyota. The following interview gives some insight into the work involved in bringing a new powertrain technology to fruition and the advantages of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Yoshikazu Tanaka is Product General Manager of the Product Planning Group. Awarded a master’s degree in engineering at Kyoto University, he joined Toyota in 1987. He was assigned to the development of automatic transmissions such as the 4-speed AT for the first-generation Yaris.
From March 2006 he was engaged in Plug-in Hybrid vehicle planning and development, and, in 2007, became planning and development leader for the Prius Plug-in project. Since January 2012, he has been in charge of planning and development for fuel cell vehicles.
Tanaka-san, let’s start by discussing fuel cell technology in general. Why does Toyota consider fuel cell to be the best solution for future mobility?
“We regard fuel cell vehicles as promising environmentally friendly vehicles of the future, with high total energy (Well-to-Wheel) efficiency. Hydrogen is an important energy resource for the future because it can be manufactured from solar, wind, and other natural energy sources. It has a higher energy density than electricity stored in a battery, and is easy to store.
The specific merits of fuel cell vehicles include energy diversification, zero emissions, and the same usability as current gasoline vehicles. Fuel cell vehicles have the potential to become the ultimate environmentally friendly vehicle of the future, with the capability of achieving sustainable mobility.”
Can you describe the Toyota vision/philosophy of future mobility?
“Toyota believes that environmentally friendly vehicles can only truly have a positive impact if they are widely used. From the perspective of mobility zones based on travel distance, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles can match the everyday usability of a current gasoline car, and become mainstream environmentally friendly vehicles. An electric vehicle is suitable for short-distance commuting, because of its short cruising distance and long charging time.
On the other hand, fuel cell vehicles are extremely versatile, with a long cruising range and a short fuelling time. However, the hydrogen infrastructure needs to be developed. At the moment, each environmentally friendly vehicle has its own shortcomings, and it is up to our customers to decide which vehicle is best for them.
In order to give these customers what they want within an appropriate timescale, we are committed to developing a broad range of technologies -including plug-in hybrid, electric vehicle and FCV, corresponding to the simultaneous diversification of energy sources.”
Toyota began work on fuel cell technology in 1992, and will put its first FCV on the market in 2015. Can you tell us what the main issues you have had to tackle were, as well as the biggest evolutionary steps?
“For a full-scale market launch of an FCV, the most important issue is the reduction of the fuel cell system cost and, hence, the retail price. We’ve worked on making FC systems more competitive; higher-powered, smaller, lighter and cheaper.
Our current FC system has a world-class output power density (3.0kW/ℓ), which is twice as high as that of our previous FCV, the Toyota FCHV-adv. Also its output power is more than 100kW, despite significant unit downsizing.
We designed a new fuel cell stack that allows water to recirculate within, from cathode to anode, humidifying internally and maintaining the proper moisture balance. Eliminating the need for a humidifier allowed us to simplify the structure of the fuel cell system, making it lighter, smaller and more cost-effective.
For a full-scale market launch in 2015, the cost of the fuel cell system will be 95 per cent lower than that of the Toyota FCHV-adv.”
What is the link today between the Toyota’s expertise in hybrid technology and the FCV? Did the hybrid expertise help you in the FCV development?
“We regard our hybrid systems as the core component technology necessary to develop eco-cars such as the plug-in hybrid, electric vehicle and FCV. We’ve been able to readily and rapidly apply the technical know-how we’ve acquired through the development of hybrid technology to other eco-cars.
In the case of the Toyota FCV Concept, we have used the current hybrid system’s electric motor, power control unit and other parts and components. By using existing parts, we are aiming to both improve reliability and minimize cost.”
Do you think that a fuel cell vehicle can already match the everyday usability of a current gasoline car?
“An FCV has the same cruising range – more than 500km – as a petrol car and needs an equally short fuelling time -approximately 3 minutes, making it every bit as convenient for day-to-day use as a current gasoline car. Also, its long cruising range makes it possible to apply FCV technology to larger vehicles such as buses and heavy trucks.”
How do you expect FC technology to evolve between 2015 and 2020?
“In preparation for a period of full-scale FCV popularization after 2020, we have placed a high priority on the research and development of fuel cell vehicles to enable sales of several tens of thousands of vehicles per year. We will accelerate our efforts to increase the commercial appeal of fuel cell vehicles by lowering the vehicle price through reducing the costs of the FC system, by improving durability, and so on…”
Are there other fuel cell-related initiatives within the Toyota group?
“Toyota Group companies will be conducting research and development into fuel-cell buses (Hino Motors, Ltd.), stationary fuel cell cogeneration systems for residential use (Aisin Seiki Co., Ltd.), and fuel-cell forklifts and other industrial vehicles (Toyota Industries Corporation).
A new FC bus jointly developed by Toyota and Hino Motors will be launched in 2016. Toyota Group companies utilise jointly the technology and know-how which each individual company has cultivated. We will continue these close relationships, and accelerate development of the FCV.”
How do you see hydrogen production evolving in the next years?
“Hydrogen can be manufactured from a variety of natural energy sources. We should choose the most cost-effective and least CO2 emission-heavy way to manufacture it, based on the specific circumstances of each region.”
How do you see the evolution of the fuelling infrastructure?
“Moves to introduce a hydrogen fuelling infrastructure in the United States are advancing in California. Progress is also being made in Europe, particularly in Germany and Scandinavia. Development of a hydrogen infrastructure will be essential for the widespread adoption of fuel cell vehicles, and we expect that infrastructure development to advance through the efforts of infrastructure-related industries with the support of the government.
Toyota will continue to develop fuel cell vehicles that can achieve high levels of consumer satisfaction, and will introduce vehicles primarily in areas where hydrogen infrastructure development is advancing. If consumer support for fuel cell vehicles can be obtained, this will provide impetus for the further development of the necessary infrastructure.”
The lack of an adequate charging network is currently handicapping Electric Vehicle development? Do you think that the FCV will have to face a similar issue?
“Because the FCV has the same cruising range and refuelling time as a conventional petrol car, the situation is different to that in which the EV currently finds itself. In terms of FCV infrastructure development, locations of refuelling sites is far more important the number of sites. Hydrogen stations should be strategically placed in order to provide maximum coverage without needing too many stations to be constructed. So, we can state that, in Europe today, only 77* stations and over 100* next year will allow a large European territory coverage, connecting for instance Norway to Switzerland via Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Even if it is not as convenient as today’s petrol station, some 200-300km between each station is a reasonable starting point.
Toyota will continue to work together with governments, related companies and research institutes, and to develop fuel cell vehicles that can achieve high levels of consumer satisfaction, which would provide impetus for the development of infrastructure.”
Are there any safety issues regarding the use of hydrogen in a car?
“The risk of a hydrogen explosion is relatively low unless the gas accumulates in a confined space. So Toyota’s basic safety concept for the hydrogen in an FCV is primarily to prevent leakage by design and material selection. In the event of hydrogen leakage, the gas is detected and the hydrogen tank main shutoff valves are closed immediately to prevent a large leak. Our design does not allow leaking hydrogen to accumulate, or come into the cabin.
We have conducted a variety of strict tests, including crash tests, and the safety of this system has been confirmed through them.”
Are there any specific recycling issues?
“Regarding parts we utilize from the existing hybrid system, we will recycle them in the same way as before. We will also aim for the same levels of recycling for any fuel cell-specific components.”
Now, about the FCV Concept itself, what are the merits of the FCV?
“A fuel cell vehicle has four merits: firstly, usability –a long, more than 500km cruising range and a short, 3 minute fuelling time; secondly, driving pleasure –strong, smooth acceleration and silent operation; thirdly, zero emissions; and, finally, energy diversification.”
What are the main design features of the Toyota FCV Concept?
“To create a vehicle that expressed a sense of values never before available, our aim was to come up with a design that let people recognize at a glance that this car offered the practically of a sedan, the joy of driving, the experience of high environmental performance and the new values of an FCV.
With the theme ‘giving shape to the wisdom of fuel cells’, we sought a new genre of design. For the front, we expressed an image of ‘breathing in air and emitting water’ and use a design that emphasizes two grilles, one on the left and one on the right.”
Does the FCV Concept body shape reflect any particular technical needs of the fuel cell stack, for example, the size of the air intake?
“With Toyota’s proprietary, small, light-weight FC Stack and two 70 MPa high-pressure hydrogen tanks placed beneath the specially designed body, the Toyota FCV Concept can accommodate up to four occupants. The bold front view features pronounced air intakes, evoking a fuel cell stack.”
What is the status of development of the fuel cell sedan scheduled for launch in 2015?
“We are in the final stages of development, conducting all kinds of tests, on ordinary roads and in cold climates and extremely hot climates, for example. While continuing these road tests and other testing, we will persist with development until we achieve a standard that will both satisfy consumers and further improve the vehicle’s reliability.”
Will the exterior or chassis of the Toyota FCV Concept be used for the fuel cell vehicle scheduled to launch in 2015?
“We are thinking of using the Toyota FCV Concept packaging. The Concept exterior design does take a commercial launch into consideration, however, there are design elements that are show model-specific only. As such, the FCV will not be launched just as it appears in Geneva.”