Hydrogen fuel cells are the fetch of the automotive design world. They are never going to happen, but that’s not going to stop automakers from trying to make them happen. Toyota is the latest claiming that you’ll be able to power your car with hydrogen, debuting a new model at the Tokyo Auto Show later this year, and claiming they’ll be on the road by 2015.
To be fair, on paper Toyota’s car seems fairly competitive. It’s got a range of 300 miles on one fueling, which is better than a lot of electric vehicles, and will supposedly cost close to $50,000, making it about the range of a Tesla Model S. Considering that fuel cell vehicles, ten years ago, were estimated to cost between $300,000 and over $1 million per vehicle, that’s actually fairly impressive. If Toyota can get this on the road, it’ll be a feather in their cap.
But what’s important is what’s missing, here. Hydrogen first has to be produced, a process that generally involves burning a lot of fossil fuels to break up distilled water into its component atoms, and there probably aren’t a lot of hydrogen manufacturers near where you live. So that raises the question of where you’ll get this hydrogen, and whether it’ll be carbon-neutral.
True, you can use renewable energy to make hydrogen, but this raises the question of why you don’t just take the hydrogen out of the equation and just plug your car into the wall, which a bunch of cars on the market already do in the first place. This becomes particularly important because, as a fuel, hydrogen is kinda crappy; it takes up a lot of space and it doesn’t give you as much energy. Oh, also, hydrogen is really dangerous; you know liquid hydrogen better as rocket fuel.
So, you probably will not be driving this car, although you might be using technologies it incorporates. But, hey, at least Toyota’s not resting on its laurels with the Prius.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.