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Hydrogen Cars Advance Japan’s Carbon-Free Agenda

SNA (Tokyo) — An increase in hydrogen cars to create a “hydrogen society” has become among the most important of Japan’s technological objectives. In recent years, the advancement of the hydrogen industry has progressed significantly, introducing even more innovative ideas, including Toyota’s invention of fuel cell trucks and delivery vehicles.

Hydrogen is an element in the universe which is capable of storing huge masses of renewable energy. Hydrogen cars are more efficient in terms of charging time (which takes a few minutes) and increased car speed possible in long-distance driving situations, when compared to Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) which need to be recharged after driving every 100 miles, and, even then, this recharging process might take over 10 hours to complete.

Hydrogen cars, also called Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs), run on hydrogen and use fuel cells instead of batteries. According to a report by Hydrogen Council, Japan plans to increase the number of FCVs to 40,000 by 2020, and 800,000 by 2030. The same report indicates that forklifts in particular will often run on hydrogen.

The biggest concern about Fuel Cell Vehicles is the shortage of hydrogen refueling stations. There are only about a hundred hydrogen stations across Japan at present, and one third of them are in Tokyo. However, Toyota, in a 2017 report, announced that the government aims to have 160 hydrogen stations available by 2020.

Toyota has also agreed to cooperate with Seven-Eleven on a reduction of greenhouse gases by developing fuel cell delivery cars to be utilized by this convenience store chain.

Since the 2015 production of Toyota Mirai, the first FCV model, the decreasing demand for FCVs was caused by their expensive material costs, including platinum, titanium, and carbon fiber, which have been preventing Toyota from launching mass production. As a result, while the Toyota Mirai costs 6.7 million yen (about US$59,000), the price of Nissan Leaf, the electric car which is the most popular on the consumer market at present, is not higher than 2.5 million yen (about US$22,000).

FCV sale forecasts are rather bleak. Whereas 1.38 million hybrid vehicles were sold in 2017, only 800 hydrogen cars were sold last year. There are numerous disadvantages blocking robust sales. Namely, the poor infrastructure unsuitable for production, transportation, and compression of hydrogen.

Despite these fundamental issues, Toyota has compiled six environmental challenges for 2050 that largely support the “hydrogen society” concept, calling for a zero-emission environment. Moreover, Toyota estimates that by 2025, it will increase the driving range of the Mirai up to about 1,000 kilometers.

Toyota, together with the Japanese government, aims to use hydrogen-powered vehicles only during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as part of their promotion of a CO2-free environment. They hope to spread this trend globally. The Japanese government believes that a dissemination of hydrogen technology, at least on a local scale, would make the country less dependent on oil imports.

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