Toyota to create hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles

Written by: Jane Marsh

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Schematic example of connecting the FC module to an external device. Photo/Toyota Motor Corporation

When most people talk about fuel cell-powered vehicles, they’re referring to cars and trucks. Japanese automaker Toyota has a broader vision, aiming to bring hydrogen fuel cells not just to road vehicles but also trains and ships.

In late February, Toyota announced a modular fuel cell system that could power a wide variety of vehicles. This isn’t the automotive giant’s first foray into hydrogen power, but it is a considerable step forward. These new fuel cell systems could give hydrogen the push it needs to compete with fossil fuels in transportation.

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A New Class of Fuel Cells

Toyota’s FC modules include a fuel cell stack and systems that handle air supply, hydrogen supply, cooling and power control. This all-in-one solution will let other vehicle manufacturers build hydrogen-powered models without developing unique fuel cell systems. Consequently, producing hydrogen vehicles would be far more straightforward and affordable.

Fuel cells already present several advantages to manufacturers. They produce no harmful emissions, and hydrogen is a readily available fuel source. It’s also three times more efficient than combustion-powered engines, extending vehicles’ range and economy. With Toyota’s new line of FC modules, they’re now accessible and affordable, too.

Toyota’s modules have a voltage range of between 400 and 750 volts, so they can work in many different electrical systems. They also come in 60kW or 80kW outputs in two different orientations, making them even more versatile. As a result, they could power anything from stationary generators to oceangoing shipping vessels.

Toyota’s Fuel Cell History

Toyota has a history of working with hydrogen fuel cells. The automaker has made a hydrogen-powered sedan, the Mirai, for years now, unveiling an updated model late last year. Around the same time, it launched a fuel cell 18-wheeler truck, with hopes to produce more.

In November 2020, Toyota started testing a hydrogen bus on the streets of Ireland. While this bus doesn’t run on the newly announced modules, it stands as an example of how fuel cells can power larger vehicles.

Toyota seems committed to the concept of a hydrogen-powered future. By releasing its all-in-one fuel cell modules to other manufacturers, it could’ve just taken a significant step toward that goal.

Fuel Cells’ Future Looks Bright

Most other electric vehicle companies have focused on battery power. With a company as large and influential as Toyota pushing for hydrogen power, fuel cells could finally have their moment. With Toyota’s help, more manufacturers could produce affordable, versatile hydrogen vehicles.

The impact that these fuel cell modules will have is still uncertain. For now, though, the concept is promising. Fuel cell technology is becoming more accessible by the day.

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