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The Toyota FCV fuel cell vehicle: Has the code for a hydrogen car been cracked?


January 16, 2014

Toyota's FCV concept at CES 2014

Toyota's FCV concept at CES 2014

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I had a funny thought walking around the Toyota FCV concept, the company's new Fuel Cell Vehicle set to go on sale beginning in 2015: This could actually be the one, I thought to myself – this could be the first fuel cell vehicle we actually see on the roads in real life.

If the hype is to be believed this time around (and you'd be forgiven for being skeptical about the arrival of this long-promised but never really delivered technology), then the stars could be aligning for hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars to take some modest steps toward reality.

First off, Toyota seems like the right company to move this vehicle forward. It's had the most luck of anyone pushing forward lower-emissions vehicles like its Prius, particularly in the hard-to-crack fuel-guzzling North American market.

As Gizmag has reported, the FCV would use Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive from the Prius, with a hydrogen fuel cell replacing the gas engine. Toyota claims the vehicle will have a range of 300 miles (483 km) and could be refueled in as little as three minutes, rivaling Tesla's plan to swap out entire electric vehicle batteries in just 90 seconds.

The FCV drivetrain

In a press conference at CES 2014, Bob Carter, a senior vice president for Toyota's automotive operations in the US, spent a significant amount of time talking not just about the FCV itself, but also about the planned 2015 rollout beginning in California. He also touched upon what is perhaps the biggest stumbling block to the whole thing – the needed fueling station infrastructure.

“The issue of infrastructure is not so much about how many, but rather, location, location, location,” said Carter. “If every vehicle in California ran on hydrogen – we could meet refueling logistics with only 15 percent of the nearly 10,000 gasoline stations currently operating in the state.”

Toyota and the University of California at Irvine collaborated on a study that found only 68 strategically-placed refueling stations between the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego could support a population of 10,000 fuel cell vehicles.

"We in the US have already asked our headquarters for substantially more volume than our original request," said Carter. "We believe that demand will outweigh our current supply plan."

He also noted that while there are only 10 active hydrogen stations in California, funding has been approved for 20 more by 2015 and 40 by 2016.

"Stay tuned," added Carter, "because this infrastructure thing is going to happen."

No gas tank here

While Toyota focuses on the hard sell around the infrastructure issue, there's one other important thing worth mentioning about this car that I was able to experience first-hand: it's actually a pretty sexy vehicle.

After a decade of relatively boxy, cramped, uncomfortable and just plain weird-looking hybrid cars, the model on display at CES could rival a Tesla when it comes to being both zero-emissions and stylish.

What remains to be seen though is if the price will be right, and if enough of that infrastructure will materialize in time for Toyota's planned 2015 launch.

Source: Toyota

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets. All articles by Eric Mack

I am sure I come across as overly-critical at times, but... DAMN that thing is ugly. The hood arrangement makes it look like it has been in an accident that broke the hood, and those "scoops" at the front corners almost certainly do nothing for the aerodynamics.

If you're going to add big features just for the looks, why not fins in the back? No, wait... already been done.

Anne Ominous

I wish they would put more emphasis on EV technology.


@Milton You make a good point, you know how they could reduce the need for hydrogen stations? Well seeing as they already are using the synergy drive/hybrid why not make it run say 30 miles on pure electric, a hydrogen plug-in hybrid. Then 10% of the range would be electric, however probably 80% of the distance would be powered by electricity which will always be cheaper than hydrogen. Even if hydrogen lives up to all its promise it would still be practically 80% electric.

Such a car would have quite a lot of use for example if your power goes down you can use the fuel cell to power your house, also if the grid is about 100% renewable and there is a time with not enough wind/solar for days then people can just let their cars power the grid for a few days and visit the fuel station more often. Could be a lot cheaper than building power plants that only get used for a week a year.


It is going to be a convenience calculation. People buy cars for the "freedom" to travel where and when they want; this is captured by the concept of the road trip.... You see it in car ads, and particularly in car design. No-one needs a fraction of the performance of a modern car for commuting. The result has been that the weakness of eco friendly cars has been the poor performance at long range driving - most people rarely travel this distance but will be reluctant to purchase a car that cannot do it. They could increase the battery range, at a significant cost in weight, but that would mean giving up either performance or hydrogen storage/fuel cell output. EVs are currently highly limited in the road trip mode - at best a couple of hours driving followed by a 1/2 to 1 hour charge cycle. Toyota has always focussed on ensuring the charge cycle is completely unnecessary - their hybrids lacked any ability to charge the battery simply to ensure the petrol engine competitors could not harp on the charge time.... I imagine we are seeing a similar approach here. Tesla is already in the market with a 400 mile electric car, with a 90 second battery swap. Toyota's fuel cell hybrid needs to compete - both performance and convenience wise. That means the car needs to be able to run completely from the fuel cell (much the same as the current generation of ICE hybrids can) - which requires a certain minimum power output from the plant, and carry enough hydrogen for a 400 mile trip, while still providing sufficient performance at high speed to make road trips enjoyable.

Ian McIntosh

The other question is: have they solved the hydrogen storage problem? As I understand it, if you fill your car with hydrogen and then leave it for a week, all the hydrogen will have leaked out. Hydrogen atoms are so small, no container can keep them in.

Nick 1801

As I understand the process, burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine will not produce the full energy potential that the same amount of hydrogen will provide if run through a fuel cell. When ignited, a sizable portion of the resultant energy from hydrogen will be in the form of waste heat.

Ronald Carter

I also favor a "in-house" hydrogen making system, alongside the battery recharging systems that work in off-peak hours. Plug in when you get home, then during the off-peak hours you will end up with a fully charged and 'gassed' car for the next day. If enough of these systems get made and used, the Peak / Off-peak highs and lows will flatten a bit, easing the severe loads on power generation plants. Now if they can find a good use for the oxygen that is split off from the water when you are making the hydrogen ....

The Skud

I thought the code for fuel cell vehicles was. Fuel cell. Fuel storage. Fuel production. Somewhere to get the fuel.

So all we're interested in this article is where to get the fuel?

I'm pretty sure most people know which order of importance these things need "cracking".

Craig Jennings

All very interesting but fueling stations are very much the minor issue with hydrogen. We still need to be able to produce it in an energy efficient manner from other than another fuel (natural gas) and also solve the transport, storage and safety issues before its potential can be realised. Whilst there have been many encouraging developments recently we are still appear quite a few years away from this. At the moment it is still a long way more efficient and effective to use the electricity that is used to produce hydrogen to fill up an EV's battery. Tesla is still on the right track.


I don't get the Advantage of hydrogen so much energy goes into liberating and compressing it it has to be expensive.


What I don't understand is why we are messing about with batteries at all.

Didn't Ford ages ago have a Ford Focus that had been converted to burn Hydrogen directly?

To me that is what we should be doing, then you can keep your existing gas guzzling cars and instead of guzzling petrol they guzzle hydrogen and produce water vapour.

All we have to crack then is a hydrogen fuelling station network and methods of ensuring that the Hydrogen tank is safe in an accident. Clearly if Toyota have this car that problem has been cracked.

Having millions of cars running around with all these weird substances in the battery that will cause a huge pollution nightmare in the future when these have to be replaced is not good. Let alone the huge costs of shipping the raw material around the World from where these rare metals are to be found such as China is a bad idea. So we finally lose our dependency on the Arab World for Oil only to create another one making us dependant on the Chinese!?

I have seen loads of projects here on Gizmag where Scientists are working on alternate ways to produce hydrogen, the most promising one was the one that used salt water and I think it was bacteria to convert the sea water into hydrogen and it also produced clean water so it could be a desalination plant as well. Why are we not pursuing this sort of thing and making ourselves entirely non-dependent on other super powers and not creating huge amounts of pollution shipping these rare metals for batteries around the World??

If cars ran on hydrogen directly rather than via a battery I would imagine all existing cars could go through a process similar to the one we currently have that converts them to run on liquid petroleum gas and in one fell swoop you have solved the pollution problem?

I think the only good thing about this is that it will encourage a hydrogen filling station network.



Only one words comes to mind......Hindenberg.....


@Anne Ominous: I agree - it's ugly as sin and very "overstyled." Why do manufacturers have to do this almost every electric car (save Tesla)?

Nick1801 is wrong about storing H2 - it sits in metal cylinders for years - ask any gas selling company.


Battery powered cars are a transitional technology, a niche pursued by the few who in their attempt to look environmentally conscious, conveniently or out of sheer ignorance, obviate the environmental catastrophe that batteries pose on the environment. Not only are they difficult and costly to dispose of, the materials employed in their manufacture put additional burdens on the earth (more so than fossil fuels since their extraction requires mining operations on a grand scale).

In terms of social security, in a state where the current power regime snoops on one's liberties and is following a 1984rean agenda, The thought of full electric vehicles depending on centralized sources of power for resupply makes me shiver since all of these may be cut at will by the state on an individual and collective basis to suit its interests.

I agree with SIV and am glad that there are others who recognize the underlying problems inherent to BPV's. Only a full hydrogen vehicle like those manufactured experimentally by BMW, FORD, NISSAN and others in the past 5 years are the hopes of the future for transportation

Jean Arenas

@ Jean, have to respectfully disagree to a point,accumulators are among some of the most successfully recycled products in the world(although I'm sure in 3rd world countries the environmental cost is terrilble). what I would like to see is a package deal,where the EV can be purchased with a Solar charging station set up on your land or NG generator ,if appropriate-do away with road tax period and charge a user fee for infra structure.One trouble with cheaper transport is people will drive more if it costs less-Kevin


They will have to lose the rear fender treatment, widen the rear track and lengthen the wheelbase by say 5 inches if it is to appeal to North Americans. Also, why does Toyota insist on ridiculous small diameter wheels for its eco-cars? They make them look over-bodied and rear heavy (does this car have a heavy set of testing gear in the trunk or is it poorly balanced with just two adults on board?).. Give a nod to some promise of performance, even if its only a nod.

Nice work on the replacement of the ic engine though.


And no mention of how the hydrogen is to be produced? Without a clean way to produce it what's the point? Sure there are ways in the "pipeline" to use wind energy to separate the water molecules but that looks to be long ways off. Does producing if from natural gas reduce emissions relative to just driving a Prius?

Phillip Noe

Platinum for H2 still a limiting factor? hold great fascination for Aluminium Billets to store Electrical energy?

Bruce Miller

Perhaps they should negotiate with WalMart and Target to provide hydrogen refueling services. I suspect there are significant complications in adding another fuel dispenser to existing gas stations. In addition, the major oil companies may not think it in their best near term interest to let their franchises carry hydrogen.

James Palmer

The whole point about gasoline and other fossil-derived fuels is they are a highly portable and convenient way of carrying around large amounts of Hydrogen locked up in their chemistry. Hydrogen is so light that even compressing reasonable amounts into liquid makes for a scene difficult to manage safely.

At some point, that hydrogen will be delivered onto the Oxygen it seeks, the ash of the process being water (and CO2). Unless the hydrogen used in that vehicle was torn back from water using electricity that did not itself come from a fossil-fueled power station, I am bound to remain unimpressed by any claims such a setup is scheme is somehow "greener".

Fuel-cell technology is by itself innovative, and impressive. I am just not sure the several processes and energy expenditure involved in manufacturing the hydrogen, and in manufacturing the fuel cell exotica itself, and the vehicle, delivers overall a great leap in efficiency over directly burning the fuel in an engine.


Hydrogen is a rabbit track, we need natural gas fuel cell vehicles. The natural gas infrastructure is already in place. The problem with natural gas is low energy density but if used efficiently in a fuel cell that would not be a problem.

And pardon me for saying but this is not too bright. What they need is a Tundra extended cab with the fuel cell. That accentuates the conditions that are in favor of the fuel cell: range and power over time. It is also something that is far from available. How many efficient pickups are there? None. Despite the rhetoric, none.


First of all I do use toyota corporation car lexus rx330, second, there children are my friends back in high school. I need gizmag to help me point out things to them to steer them to right direction and tell them one of your team member children friend Derrick ask me to passed down the message because it seems they are taking me seriously and I thank them for that but they are need for improvement and if it is done I will buy there product. 1. Solve the battery issue for one week not use gone dead need complete battery issues. 2. Address and solve all safety issues publish it, no one dares to buy until they can be sure they are safe. 3. Fuel station needs to be available all over the country and reachable to be worth it for consumer. 4.The technology needs to be on other models as well instead of just prius man. 5. My personal message to my Toyota friends, a lot of your model such as camery are only having minor face lift only and I am starting to get tire of them including lexus, can you change up and I mean major major man. And use a whole lot better material man that meet or surpass euro maker, I mean the world is auto climate control not working right all about and the wood looking alike instead of real wood with napa or Alcona vantilated leather. Also man can your team shoot up someone to monitor the dealer? I have to deal with longo lexus service department and manager for hours with there rude behavior for the mistake they make. I would recommend your team use high quality boss speaker pioneer subwoofer, zapco amplifier on all of your car product line from now on, I am very happy with them, you'll need capacitor and digital equalizer as well. Make it happen, I want to continue buy your product and make all your machine top speed at 200 mph since mercedes already up to 186mph man. Just make it happen man and I will remain royal to my high school friends.

Derrick Chen

A good reason to go electric over all other forms of drive power??? ELECTRIC COMPANIES ARE REGULATED UTILITIES! What does this mean? It means there won't be price gouging and extreme profiteering as is presently the case with petroleum. Likewise, hydrogen is NOT a regulated industry and as such there could be massive profiteering from this industry...and I suspect if gasoline stations went away the oil companies would control hydrogen production/sale as the replacement.

Tristram Buckley

Molten Salt melt down proof nuclear will be needed to bring the conversion efficiency beyond that of the fossil fuels and renewable sources. Higher process heat will split the water without all the electrolysis. Therefore, I promote ALL clean energy.

Robert Bernal

The article forgets that when it comes to comparing fuel cell to battery electric vehicles, you are looking at different fueling infrastructure philosophies. Fuel cells, just like gasoline, relies on a station for all its fueling. This means that the range has to be always large so that a person is not spending lots of time and money going to a station to fill up. Battery electric vehicles on the other hand, are primarily refueled at home. This means the range does not need to be all that large for day to day travel. It also means that there can be several options for getting the range you need to take occasional longer trip. What option you choose depends on how occasional those trips are and how quickly you need to continue your trip. One major stumbling block not mentioned in great detail for fuel cells is the cost of fuel. Most predictions say that hydrogen to fuel a vehicle for 400 mi. will be more expensive than refueling with gas for 400 mi.

Jeff Durham

Toyota should learn that, regarding style, less is more.

But I could care less about style. Toyota is the right company to come out with the first usable FC vehicle. I currently drive a Prius, which is a great car. I feel like I am driving a big car, and the mileage is hard to beat. I think the car is very well built. I have driven it in the mountains with four people in the car, and there was plenty of power to handle this.


Toyota offer some for Experimental drives like 1963 Chrysler Turbine car then for Today & have fitted with sensors etc. Be awesome Involve the Auto Club nationwide in effort, Test nationwide. Then produce after X months/years testing?

Stephen Russell

This fuel cell vehicle isn't a hybrid. It's an electric car that uses a fuel cell to power its electric drive motors. I don't understand why they say it uses the hybrid synergy drive since that is a system in which both the engine and the electric motor can power the wheels. It involves a continuously variable transmission connecting the engine to the drive wheels. The fuel cell vehicle wouldn't have a gasoline engine at all so there's no need for any transmission, continuously variable or not. No gas engine, no hybrid drive. It's all electric.


@ hkmk23

The ignition point on the Hindenburg was the doped canvas skin that self ignited when the the static electricity discharged through a narrow enough channel to heat the doped canvas to its ignition temperature. The hydrogen was completely incidental to the destruction of the Hindenburg.


After all these years I still don't understand why use the battery and hydrogen and so forth to power the cars, creating more problem and waste more money making all those changes. I remember the days when I worked in Argentina and every gasoline vehicle was retrofitted with natural gas tank, they work wonderfully. When you run out of natural gas, you simply turn on the switch to run normal gasoline. To charge the gas, you would go to any gas station and fill up was simple. My point is, there is already a solution to the scarcity of gasoline and our dependency on foreign oil when we have plenty of natural gas to begin with, not to mention natural gas can also be reproduced in labs with minimum cost. If someone argue this "technology" is not safe, why is that I never heard of gas explosions from those retrofitted vehicles? And why do I see more and more public buses using natural gas? Not safe, I don't think so.


Oh forgot to mention, it costs only $500 to retrofit a regular vehicle to natural gas one depending on how large the tank of course.. No need to spend those hard earned money in getting a new car. Wait, may be that's why they don't want to promote natural gas retrofit kits and call them "dangerous" when in fact was a proven technology.


I am since 1980 a hydrogen fan, to sp;it water needs very high amounts of energy, but there is now a very cheap fuel: natural gas (H4C) cracking in dry 2H2 + C as by-product high quality and dry carbon black. The idea is compressed natural gas station, it needs a compressor to compress NG in CNG, a plasma reactor to crack down in H2 only to electrify the station including plasma reactor, compressor, lights, etc:, and carbon black as by-product, so we have CNG to fuel a car, which CNG tank is 5.8 smaller than H2 tank, I suggest 4 times smaller to get a longer driving space, in the car there is a small plasma reactor which H4C is cracked to 2H2 + C as by-product carbon black, the dry 2H2 can be used to internal combustion engines from BMW, Ford, Aston Martin, Nissan, MAN, etc:, with a 17% to 23% power efficiency, first the engine needs a bigger alternator to electrify the plasma reactor and heat, the advantage is a part of the exaust gas is water that goes back cooling the engine's cylinder, also there is no more or little quantity of NOX that goes to the enviroment almost 100% emmisions free depending the construction of the engine; in other the 2H2 can fuel FC which produce electricity, water vapour and heat, the FC will electrify to electric motor or motors and accesories like Toyota, Honda, Mercedes Benz, etc: with 100% emmisions free, this are to make big choices of the car makers and authorities, also the US with the high amounts of cheap NG will not depend more from foreign countries raw material like oil, rare earths and others; now about the by-product as CB is vacuumed in a container in the car and in the CNG station.

This plasma reactors are microwave plasma reactors or vacuum plasma reactors.

The car makers and authorties are responsible to the present and future generations to freeze the warmig of our space ship the EARTH using this kind of technology.

Esteban Sperber Frankel

This plasma reator's technology from a cheap NG can be use with not comopressed NG, every home, from NG goes throu a plasma reactor and a fuel cell brings about 5 Kilowatst home electricity, water and heat and a by-product to a container vacuumed from a vacuum truck which the carbon black is using to many products, biside the elactricity loss would bee abou one to three %, not lyke from the grid to home 30 to 40% loss, another advanteg, also has water and air condition.

Esteban Sperber Frankel

No one mentioned that hydrogen is very , very dangerous to handle and is explosive in almost all concentrations with air. A few mentioned the sources of hydrogen and they are all expensive and most are not very green. Somehow converting electrical energy into hydrogen storage and then back to electricity seems redundant. Using liquid propane or LNG seems to make more sense. What ever happened to the freon add- on engine that was tried 50 years ago. It used the waste heat from an internal combustion engine to supplement its output. Given the amount of heat going out the radiator and tailpipe you could almost power a steam powered helper engine.

I must be getting old. The car in this article reminds me of an Edsel.


The biggest challenge for hydrogen-powered vehicles is that the best source and least expensive source for hydrogen is via a carbon-dioxide intense extraction process via natural gas.

For this reason, while the vehicles may indeed be zero-emissions, the overall fuel refinement process contributes to global warming.

David Anthony

@ R Paul Carter That can be altered if you put a good waste heat recovery system on it. The ICE can run on other fuels as well.


@ Esteban Sperber Frankel Extracting the hydrogen from natural gas looses more energy than the efficiency of the fragile easily poisoned fuel cells make up for and the infrastructure for converting to compressed/liquid natural gas is already in place.


Might want to revise your 1st paragraph.

The first Fuel Cell cars "seen on roads" is the Honda Clarity (a few test cars in 2008, and now hundreds in 2014).

Troy Heagy

Hang on to your hats people, hydrogen does not need fossil fuels or expensive means by which to crack from water. There are all ready a dozen or so methods to make it's availability as sure as gasoline. Not to mention the jobs to be created with this new technology, the environment from the air we breath to the water we drink will all be enhanced as we need to lead, not debate, hydrogen as our alternative future. I can compare this technology to the 1980's when the commodore computer and the computer silicon valley leaping from the 300 baud access from the modem to bulletin boards to the pc and aol making strides to develop better gui and faster modem speeds to connect to internet. We are at the tip of the iceberg with hydrogen, big oil still dominates the money, but not for long. Oil and gas are dinosaurs that we need not depend upon anymore.


Video below of what is happening in California at municipal wastewater treatment plants using fuel cell technology to produce 3 value streams of electricity, hydrogen and heat all from a human waste! This is pretty impressive in my opinion for hydro-refueling infrastructure.

"New fuel cell sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world's first"


"It is here today and it is deployable today," said Tom Mutchler of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a sponsor and developer of the project.

2.8MW fuel cell using biogas now operating; Largest PPA of its kind in North America


Jeff Griswald

It seems we've become a country of "Let Joe do it" people. The making of hydrogen is so simple and inexpensive, that we could generate it at home, store some of it for heat and cooking and hot water. This is far from rocket science these days, though there are systems with much higher efficiency than the simplest of electroysis generators. The only time refueling becomes an issue is while travelling cross-country. My concern is with how Toyota plans to deal with repairability issues of replacing the proton exchange membranes. They don't last forever, you know. So will they design for repairability? Why isn't Toyota discussing critical issues like operating pressures, storage pressures, etc? Are they going to implement metallic hydride canister storage or what? Fuel range is also an acceleration-based issue. So how do they speak to that. And what kind of energy recovery system do they plan on using with braking?

It seems to me that these are tougher questions that need answering.


"the model on display at CES could rival a Tesla when it comes to being both zero-emissions and stylish".

Um no.

This 120.6 hp piece of junk frack-mobile (10% less powerful than a Prius) generates hidden emissions from natural gas that are beyond horrific.

Julian Cox

4W in 1W out

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