“Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell technology has advanced rapidly over the last two years,” said Irv Miller, Toyota group vice president, environmental and public affairs. “In 2015, our plan is to bring to market a reliable and durable fuel cell vehicle with exceptional fuel economy and zero emissions, at an affordable price.”
To show the state of Toyota’s hydrogen program, a hydrogen fuel cell, electric-powered Toyota Highlander achieved an estimated range of 431 miles on a single full tank of compressed hydrogen gas in a recent test run. The crossover racked up an average fuel economy of 68.3 miles/kg during a day-long trip down the southern California coast.
During this in-field test held in June, the Highlander Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle (officially referred to as the FCHV-adv) was evaluated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Savannah River National Laboratory (SNRL) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The goal was to conduct a collaborative evaluation of the real world driving range of the FCHV-adv.
On Tuesday, June 30, two fuel cell vehicles carried two Toyota Technical Center engineers, an SRNL engineer and a NREL engineer as they completed a 331.5 mile extended round trip drive between Torrance, California and San Diego. “This evaluation of the FCHV-adv demonstrates not only the rapid advances in fuel cell technology, but also the viability of this technology for the future,” said Jared Farnsworth, Toyota Technical Center advanced powertrain engineer.
The drive began at a Toyota facility in Torrance, traveled north to Santa Monica, turned south to San Diego and finally retraced the route back to Torrance. In an effort to emulate a typical California commute, the route encompassed a variety of drive cycles, including high-speed highway driving, moderate-speed highway driving, and stop and go traffic on surface streets. Each vehicle was outfitted with a data collection system that captured vehicle speed, distance traveled, hydrogen consumed, hydrogen tank pressure, temperature, and internal tank volume.
Total driving range data from each vehicle was calculated by SRNL and NREL engineers. The results were averaged for an estimated range of 431 miles, with an average fuel economy of 68.3 miles/kg.
During a recent interview with the head of General Motor’s fuel-cell program director, Jon Beriesa, he told us that the sixth-generation Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen hybrid is capable of 300 miles. Beriesa’s group continues to work at increasing their system’s range while reducing the system’s size and cost.
As a comparison against conventionally-powered vehicles, the 2009 Toyota Highland Hybrid achieves an EPA-estimated rating of 26 mpg combined fuel economy and has a full-tank range of approximately 450 miles. With premium grade gasoline currently priced at about $3.25, the gasoline-powered V-6 Highlander hybrid is estimated to travel approximately 26 miles at a cost of about $3.25. Currently, hydrogen gas pricing is not fixed, but DOE targets future pricing at $2 to $3 per kilogram. Therefore, the FCHV-adv is estimated to travel approximately 68 miles at a projected cost of about $2.50 – more than double the range of the Highlander Hybrid, at equal or lesser cost, while producing zero emissions.
AutomobileMag.com has driven hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on several occasions. It is our opinion that their operation is ordinary enough to be readily accepted by the driving public once the cost of the powertrain becomes competitive.
As for finding hydrogen fuel when you need to fill up, GM’s Bereisa told us, “There’s a lot more hydrogen production around than people think, so if the country wanted to move to a hydrogen economy, it could get done pretty quickly and with a lot less investment than we’re already seeing in the current stimulus package.” As a matter of fact, the Toyota Highlanders likely passed a number of hydrogen producing refineries along their test route. Those familiar with the I-5 in Southern California may recall the multiple pipelines running parallel to the interstate along sections between San Diego and Los Angeles. One of those larger pipes (approximately 4-feet in diameter) carries hydrogen used in and/or produced by the energy industry.