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Toyota takes the high road with hydrogen cars

Mirai // Courtesy of Toyota

Toyota takes the high road with hydrogen cars


Future. As global investment in hydrogen power picks up, Toyota is selling more models of its hydrogen-powered car, the Mirai, than ever before. But with EV infrastructure taking off and hydrogen infrastructure barely chugging, is it too late to harness the most abundant fuel in the universe?

All gassed up

Investors have funneled over $80 billion to hydrogen research and infrastructure (like building hydrogen-powered airplanes), and now many are looking to hydrogen to solve carbon emissions problems, from fueling vehicles to storing energy for the power grid.

    • Hydrogen fuel cells can store energy and have become much cheaper and more efficient in recent years. Unlike electric, hydrogen can power boats and planes, and refuel cars nearly as fast as gasoline can.
    • But the cheapest (and most popular) way to manufacture hydrogen isn’t clean at all. Not only would H2 plants need to be built immediately, they’d also need to run on renewables and would be far costlier to produce than current methods.
    • The other major hurdle for Toyota: hydrogen fueling stations only exist in California. We need more fueling stations, but those each cost $2 million to build — so supply waits for demand waits for supply…

There’s a workaround, though. Hydrogen makes sense for shipping and delivery companies since a few centralized fueling locations littered along planned routes would mitigate the drawback of refuel access. If that happened, the resulting infrastructure might be sufficient to spike consumer demand.

The wet blanket
Many believe it’s still too late for hydrogen cars. But in the long run, given the enormous overhauls to urban infrastructure that climate change will require, it would likely be better to install hydrogen infrastructure than to do nothing at all.

General hydrogen power is another story. Ships and planes have no clean-energy alternative to hydrogen, and the fuel could still support power grids and decarbonize major industries like steel production. There’s a silver lining to every cloud.

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