Short Test Drive of Toyota FCHV-adv, Running on Hydrogen

By · April 10, 2013

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

Fuel cells cars have never been very popular among EV fans, but I was genuinely happy when I was offered the opportunity to test drive the Toyota FCHV-adv. This is the hydrogen car with the longest proven range. There is no official EPA rating for it, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has tested it many times, and they experienced 431 miles on average. So it's as good as a gasoline car, and it fills up nearly as fast.

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

But it's not new. This prototype is based on the previous generation Toyota Highlander and it shows on the inside. The dashboard could be more modern. But what the car doesn't show, when on the road, is its prototype status. It drives like a regular production car, and just like a Toyota should. It's totally fuss-free.

The SUV designation is almost an accident, because this car drives like a sedan—and a very quiet one, thanks to its electric propulsion. There's some noise coming from the fuel cell, but it's no vroom-vroom. It's more of a whoosh-whoosh.

The fuel cell works a bit like an engine, you hear it working harder when you ask for more power, and that happened several times since performance was only adequate. It was Prius-like, so more than enough for daily use—but not much fun. The best part was looking at the on-board computer. It has the same layout the Prius has, only with a fuel cell instead on a gas engine. At times the power from the fuel cell was going to the motor, and at other times it was going to the battery. Much to my surprise, the fuel cell was not working continuously. Once again, it was like the Prius. It's always funny in a Toyota hybrid to see the gas engine turning itself on and off so frequently, and there was the same thing with the fuel cell in that FCHV-adv.

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

An EV with No Worry about Range

The fuel cell is not the rough and immature technology that some detractors claim. It's very refined, quick to start and quick to shut down, and very efficient in this generation. Toyota says it's 25 percent better than the previous one. One kilo of hydrogen provides more than 65 miles of driving. That's very impressive considering that in a vehicle this size, 100 kilos of the best lithium cells would not deliver this much distance. With more than 6 kilos in the high pressure tank, range is never an issue, and that's what the dashboard says. The hydrogen gauge is the same as in the gas Toyota Highlander—well, I guess, actually, I've never been in the gas version of this car. This car was the first EV I drove that I didn't worry about range. This is an EV which people can use exactly like a gas car. My only regret was that I couldn't take it to the highway. My short test drive was entirely in the city. But if this fuel cell car is as good on the road as it is at low speeds, the battery electric car faces some real competition in just a few years.

Well, one a few major conditions: for one, if the fuel cell car enters regular production, is available at an affordable price, and is there's a hydrogen network in most of the country. That's a lot of IFs. I don't see much of that happening, but nonetheless, I inquired about the price. The Toyota engineer replied that it was not the biggest issue. According to the company, it's possible to build fuel cell cars at a competitive price. Toyota says it will have one by 2015. That's just two years away.

Comments

· · 4 years ago

@Laurent

Not to be picky, but we readers want to know

1). The price of the Car, or what could reasonably be expected to be the current price.
2). The current cost of H2 to drive 65 miles.
3). The cost of home refueling equipment and then the cost of refueling there (and how much Natural Gas is used to make the H2).
4). The life of the fuel cell in miles, and the cost to have it replaced.

I would guess current costs are astronomical, No?

· · 4 years ago

One kilo is the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline so it does 65 mpg, that's a lot of mpg for a truck this big. A small car like a focus can surrely do 100 mpg. This fuelcell is not affected by heat or cold like batteries do. Im interrested to buy. That's an electric car like a bev so why some folks hate hydrogen and prefer destroying an underperforming costly battery in less then a couple of years and will always have the charging problem.
If ever they improve batteries densities then a bev with an improve battery plus the addition of a small fuelcell can be a winning combinaison of power, cost, efficiency, economic, practicality, range, durability, added value for resale, lightweight. I think that a fuelcell will last longer then a battery as it is only solid cheap metals contrary to batteries that wear even if you don't use it and it brick easilly like half of the leaf after a year and a half.

there is maybe no need for an external hydrogen infrastructure if they can miniaturize a small hydrogen maker inside the fuelcell car or suv.

· · 4 years ago

I've test driven this car along with the Honda FCX Clarity - both amazing feats of engineering, but it was very clear to me that these vehicles are not the future of automotive transportation. We're talking about a car that is much more expensive than an EV (if we expect it to cost about the same as the Hyundai fuel cell vehicle ~$50k US, not counting whatever maintenance), has fewer fueling stations, creates an extraordinary amounts of energy waste trying to extract H2 from something, and also tows around a highly pressurized tank filled with an element that is more combustible than gasoline.

Cool technology, just not usable for the real world.

· · 4 years ago

Nosoup:
You make a lot of bold declarative statements which basically say that you know a lot more than Toyota, the COE, Daimler and just about every other car manufacturer on the planet who all see fuel cells and hydrogen becoming viable, and base them on canards put about by the battery only crowd.
The Hyundai fuel cell vehicle will cost about $50k:
True. What do you expect for vehicles to be produced using a new technology in a production run of around 10,000 a year?
Have you seen the price of the Tesla, which still has only half the range?
Presumably you are confident that the price of battery cars can drop, so why not fuel cell cars?

Fewer fuelling stations:
What do you expect prior to the cars to use them being produced?
That is why they did not build airports before they started building aeroplanes.
Doh!

Wasted energy producing H2:
Both fuel cell cars and battery electric ones using the current US grid use around 1MJ/mile on a well to wheels basis.
Both can utilise many forms of renewable energy, and without the use of hydrogen storage a very high percentage of renewables is not possible.
That is why Germany, Norway, and just about everyone else who are planning a high degree of renewables penetration are also planning storage using hydrogen, as they can't make it work without.

'Highly pressurized tank filled with an element that is more combustible than gasoline':

Presumably you have not seen or bothered to look up the safety tests on hydrogen tanks done by the likes of Daimler and the German safety authorities.

Your characterisation of them as unsafe is about as sensible as those claiming that batteries will continually be exploding and so battery electric cars are too unsafe to use.
Both are fine given decent engineering.
Anything will have problems with poor engineering.

· · 4 years ago

How much hydrogen does this vehicle carry, and what is the pressure in the tank(s)? How much does it cost to fill it with hydrogen? Where are there enough hydrogen filling stations to let you drive one? How long will the fuel cell last?

I wonder how big a battery pack could be fit in the vehicle if you replaced the hydrogen storage and the fuel cell, and what would the cost difference?

How big is the battery pack in the vehicle? Can that battery pack be charged with a plug? If not, then why is this post here on Plugin Cars?

Have hydrogen powered vehicles been crash tested? All the hydrogen filling stations I have seen do not have roofs (because this can trap hydrogen) - so how would this work in snowy areas? A lot of hydrogen filling stations are limited to the number of vehicles they can fill each day (some are limited to ~15/day!) because of the time it takes to pre-compress the hydrogen up to ~5,000PSI. It then has to be compressed up to 10,000PSI to be put into the vehicles. How many vehicles can a typical hydrogen filling station service?

Do we have a renewable source for hydrogen? How much of the hydrogen we use today comes from making chlorine, and how much comes from steaming natural gas and how much comes from renewable energy? I've heard that it takes ~3.5X the electricity to make hydrogen (and some additional energy to compress it?) as it takes to just directly use the electricity in an EV - is this true?

Neil

· · 4 years ago

Okay, I missed the bit about the 6+ kilos of hydrogen - sorry. But, it is the weight and volume of the tanks and all their protective structure that is equivalent to the battery pack. I suspect that that weighs a lot more than the hydrogen inside them.

Neil

· · 4 years ago

Yes, this is rather odd that we now have an auto review on Plug In Cars for a car that can't be plugged in?

Hydrogen has been debated extensively here in the past. What always seems to be determined is that - even if the fuel cells and tanks were perfected (fragility, weight and cost issues) - it's still going to take more energy to convert water to hydrogen via solar PV electrolysis than if you take that same PV array and use that electricity to directly power your electric car. Manufacture your hydrogen in any other manner and you have environmental concerns that negate any supposed advantage.

Also . . . battery electric vehicles are able to utilize regenerative braking to assist in recharging the batteries. You can't really do that with hydrogen. Hence, if hydrogen is really going to be utilized in a vehicle to it's fullest potential (the end product of a fuel cell, after all, is electricity,) the car in question should also have a significant quantity of batteries.

My idea for the range extender car of the future is one that is primarily battery powered, but with a smaller fuel cell and tank infrastructure than what we're seeing in today's all-hydrogen car prototypes. Take the ICE motor out of a Chevy Volt (or more interestingly, something like the VW XL1) and replace it with the appropriately-size matching fuel cell system. Assuming we can address current concerns of fuel cell reliability, weight and cost along with battery reliability, weight and cost (and, yes, battery technology is advancing more quickly than hydrogen in those respects,) then we have, indeed, a very interesting mid 21st century automobile.

· · 4 years ago

No one doubts whether the cars work or whether they are nice. They are nice cars.

The problem is the cost of the vehicles, the lack of fueling stations, the fuel costs more per mile than electricity into an EV, the potential safety issues, etc.

· · 4 years ago

Laurant:

How about another article giving out Co$T information?

· · 4 years ago

Neil:
Sure, the tank weighs many times the weight of the hydrogen it contains.
You are still talking about an overall weight of comfortably over 1000Wh/kg, way more than can be done with the best current batteries, and tank weights etc are falling too.
That is why the Toyota FCEV does ~twice the mileage per tank/charge that the Tesla does.

Now maybe batteries will improve radically through lithium/air technology or some such, and the costs drop commensurately.
But then again, maybe they won't.

We do know that we can do it with fuel cells, as there are no breakthroughs required, it is much more incremental improvement.

That is why all the major car companies are developing fuel cells as well as batteries, as they don't know how fast and far batteries will improve.

Neither do people writing on blogs who would have us discontinue fuel cell development.

· · 4 years ago

@Benjamin,
Actually, a properly designed FCEV is a REEV with a FC as the RE. The problem is that automotive planners see the opportunity to remove as much of the expensive batteries as they can and replace that cost with an expensive Fuel Cell. They probably feel that a battery big enough to capture the regenerated energy of two freeway offramp decel events would be big enough. It seems obvious to me that somebody that has PV solar available to charge their EV should use the largest battery and least expensive range extender that they can. In theory, the range extender will be used so infrequently that the hydrocarbon use will be minimal. A fuel cell vehicle using hydrogen generated from steam reformed natural gas will have consumed a lot more hydrocarbons. I think downsizing a fuel cell to generate only enough energy to propel the vehicle down the freeway at 65mph will always be an order of magnitude more expensive than an equivalently sized combustion engine. From that perspective, I appreciate the BMW i3 system design approach.

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