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Toyota Introduces Fuel Cell for Testing on U.S. Roads

August 22, 2001

In what it says is the latest example of its ongoing commitment to expand technology for environmentally friendly cars and trucks, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) demonstrated a space-age fuel cell vehicle Aug. 22 that generates its own on-board electricity with compressed hydrogen.The company’s new zero-emissions FCHV-4 was put through its paces at the Toyota Technical Center at Torrance, Calif., for the news media, environmental leaders and government officials. FCHV is short for “fuel cell hybrid vehicle,” and represents the automaker’s next step in hybrid technology, which is available today in the Toyota Prius sedan.Based on the new Highlander SUV, the FCHV-4 is the first Toyota fuel cell on U.S. roads. The company began real-world testing with the vehicle at the end of July, in cooperation with the California Fuel Cell Partnership. Organized in 1999, the partnership is a public-private venture dedicated to demonstrating fuel cell technology in California. Norihiko Nakamura, an executive advisory engineer responsible for Toyota’s fuel cell development, said the FCHV-4 was completed entirely in house. As a result, he said, “We were able to give every portion of the system the kind of performance necessary for a viable automobile.”Nakamura cautioned that it will be at least 10 years before any manufacturer has a fuel cell ready for mass marketing to consumers. He based his forecast on a number of problems that have not yet been solved, such as improving energy efficiency levels, perfecting on-board hydrogen storage, developing systems that use a variety of fuels and establishing an infrastructure for distribution of the fuels.In addition to hydrogen, Toyota is looking at several other fuel sources, including natural gas, methanol and a relatively new concept called CHF, or clean hydrocarbon fuel. CHF, which can be made from petroleum or other resources such as natural gas and coal, will also work in current gasoline-powered cars.“It’s not a matter of one fuel winning and the other losing,” Nakamura said, “it’s a matter of coexistence.”As petroleum resources become increasingly scarce in the years ahead, Nakamura predicts that “fuel cell vehicles will be the majority of automobiles in use.” Although many improvements must be made by all manufacturers before mass marketing is feasible, Toyota’s FCHV-4 is a good indication of what fuel cell vehicles may be like.Based on the five-passenger Highlander, it features a proprietary high-output 90-kilowatt Toyota FC Stack, which is no larger than a conventional gasoline engine. The fuel cell stack also works in tandem with a secondary nickel-metal hydride battery to give the vehicle regenerative braking and other attributes derived from its unique hybrid system.It has a top speed of nearly 95 mph and a cruising range of more than 155 miles. In addition, Toyota engineers succeeded in giving the FCHV-4 three times the vehicle efficiency of an ordinary gasoline-powered car.Under the rear cargo deck, there are four high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks. Each tank has a maximum storage pressure of 3,600 PSI (25 MPa), which Toyota hopes to increase for improved cruising range.Toyota is already conducting road tests in Japan with five FCHV-4s, which have accumulated more than 3,000 miles. In the U.S., it has assigned three full-time engineers to support its activities with the California Fuel Cell Partnership. Two FCHV-4s will undergo rigorous testing in the U.S. to prove that Toyota’s proprietary fuel cells perform adequately under American road conditions. At the same time, Toyota engineers will collect performance data on expressway travel, hill climbing and other severe situations.In total, Toyota has seven FCHVs on U.S. and Japanese roads, more than any manufacturer. By implementing real-world testing in both countries, the company says it can demonstrate its commitment to FCHV development and achieve its ultimate goal of commercializing FCHVs.
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