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Cow power: Toyota’s new car can run on hydrogen from Irish manure

Cow power: Toyota’s new car can run on hydrogen from Irish manure

Car giant Toyota reckons you could power its new fuel cell car for a year using the manure of just one cow.

According to the company’s chief technology officer, Shigeki Terashi, hydrogen extracted from the manure of one cow would be enough to provide enough fuel to run the Mirai for a year of average mileage.

The Mirai uses fuel cells to combine stored hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity, which then powers the car’s electric motors.

Terashi was highlighting the numerous benefits of using hydrogen as a fuel source, rather than electricity from the public grid – often generated from fossil fuels – to recharge large battery packs in regular electric cars.

For motorists, hydrogen’s big advantage, as a fuel, is that it’s quick and easy to use by a driver. Refuelling takes no longer than a conventional petrol or diesel car, and the usable range of a fuel cell vehicle is about the same as an ordinary car.

Many of Toyota’s rivals dismiss hydrogen as an option for passenger cars, seeing the future as electric for private motoring, with hydrogen fuel cells used for commercial and large passenger vehicles, like buses. However, the Japanese car company believes hydrogen is the best long term option for even large family cars. It is set to be an interesting tech battle over the next decade or more.

On our roads by 2023

Research published last month commissioned by a cross-industry group Hydrogen Mobility Ireland – which includes major transport, energy and utility companies – claimed hydrogen-fuelled cars, buses and trucks can be a reality in Ireland by 2023, and there is the potential for more than 35,000 hydrogen vehicles to be on roads within a decade. As transport accounts for about 20 per cent of Ireland’s greenhouse gases, and is the largest source of energy-related emissions, with State supports it would remove some 300,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, it concluded.

Hydrogen Mobility Ireland is projecting that there will be 80 hydrogen filling stations by 2030, which it claims would ensure 50 per cent of the population of the island would live in a town with a hydrogen refuelling station as well as providing coverage of major roads.

Hydrogen vehicles, the report predicted, will be cost-competitive with conventional fuel vehicles by 2025; buses, vans and taxis could be deployed as the catalyst for market establishment, followed by HGVs and trains.

New Mirai

As for Toyota’s sleek new hydrogen fuel cell saloon, the new Mirai was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor show on Wednesday as a concept, but engineers say it is largely the production version of the car, which is likely to enter the market from 2021.

The new car promises 30 per cent better fuel consumption than the current Mirai model that’s on limited sale in selected markets, which means a likely range of 500km or so.

The styling is also much better than the outgoing model, with similar lines to the new Toyota Camry and Lexus ES interior features. Toyota opted for 20-inch alloys and says that they have worked on the car’s ride and suspension to ensure it’s still smooth and comfortable on the big wheels, even on bad surfaces.

Production is expected to begin late next year, but heavy initial demand from markets where hydrogen infrastructure is already being rolled out, such as Germany, may delay the Mirai’s arrival in other markets.

Toyota’s chief technology officer, Terashi, also outlined the company’s plans for future all-electric models as work continues on creating a solid state battery to replace the current lithium-ion units used by car companies. Explaining that solid state batteries would be smaller, lighter, and less prone to damage from high voltage fast charging over their lifetimes, he predicted that Toyota will have a working demonstration of the battery by next year, but it will be the middle of the next decade before mainstream production is expected to begin.

Next year Toyota will introduce two new all-electric vans, while its premium brand Lexus will launch a new fully-electric model. These are the first fully electric models for a brand normally associated with petrol-electric hybrid power. Terashi said hybrids still had a strong future for many motorists as they are best suited to many buyers needs. He also said battery suppliers are struggling to meet demand due to the interest in electric cars, so it should be noted that you can provide 50 hybrid cars with batteries compared to one electric car.

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