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Many people have long-since believed that hydrogen cars are still a long way away from being manufactured but with Daimler, Honda, Toyota, General Motors and Hyundai all committed to putting hydrogen-fuelled fuel-cell cars on limited sale in Europe by 2015, the future will be here sooner than we might think.
Toyota is currently making preparations for the introduction of its FCV-R cell saloon concept which was first introduced by Toyota at the Tokyo show in 2011. An updated version of the saloon was presented at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show incorporating Toyota’s off-the-shelf hybrid parts and claiming a 500-mile cruising range and minus 30-degree Centigrade starting capability.
However, despite the fact that Europe, in particular Germany, is preparing the ground for a hydrogen infrastructure, the UK is considerably lagging behind. At present, we have only one UK commercial filling station at Honda’s Swindon plant which is holding back the testing of fuel-cell prototypes on UK roads.
With the UK H2 Mobility Group predicting the demand for fuel-cell cars being no more than 30,000 per year by 2023, do we need to panic just yet? Perhaps not, although according to its road map, there will be 1.6 million fuel-cell vehicles in the UK by 2030 with sales of more than 300,000.
UK H2 Mobility has identified that the key to a take up of Hydrogen powered cars is the accessibility to hydrogen filling stations to customers with a report suggesting that an estimated 65 filling stations being enough to “start the market”.
Toyota’s head of fuel cell development, Katsuhiko Hirose, has spent a large amount of time in the UK trying to convince politicians and legislators that there is a growing need or a hydrogen infrastructure in order for the UK to keep up with developing motoring technology. Already in Germany there are 15 stations operating with an additional 20 set to open in the next couple of years, with 30-40 planned thereafter.
“We are close to the start of infrastructure development,” says Hirose. “Now is the time to pay the cheques. The UK Government is willing to support a hydrogen infrastructure, but the trouble is that time is running out.”
Hirose believes that 20 stations is the workable minimum to introduce the technology and also to install confidence in buyers that the fuel won’t simply disappear.
With regards to why Toyota is so keen to pursue fuel cells, Hirose is clear about the competitive advantage they offer. He said: “Fuel-cell research is not so easy, but it cannot be copied so easily, either.” He also claims that fuel-cell vehicles are simpler to make than electric cars due to the commonly agreed world-wide standard for fuel standards and refuelling which for electric cars differs from country to country.