Any discussion of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is sure to lead to a discussion of where the hydrogen is going to come from. Even though Japanese car companies have been making public strides with hydrogen for years now, the situation is no different there.

It was announced two years ago in Japan that there would be 100 hydrogen fueling stations built, "centered around four major city areas in Tokyo, Aichi, Osaka and Fukuoka" and completed by 2015, when the first FCVs are planned for mass-market sale. Last year the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology (HySUT) and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) together began work on three stations to test planning and viability of commercial hydrogen fueling.

The H2 station at Toyota's Ecoful Town in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan is one of those three, and we got a closer look at it during a visit to the model village last week. Four stations are being built in Aichi Prefecture, the one in Ecoful Town being the first commercial station that operates at 70 megapascals (MPa, around 10,000 psi) in the area. It was built by Toho Gas Co., Ltd. and Iwatani Corporation (a gas and energy development and supply company), both part of that much larger HySUT/NEDO consortium of companies making the hydrogen push in Japan. The group was described to us as domestic automobile manufacturers Toyota, Honda and Nissan, as well as "13 energy suppliers" that include "utility companies, gas companies and traditional fuel producers," and for the station at Ecoful Town they've also formed a partnership with Smart Melit (Smart Mobility & Energy Life in Toyota City), Toyota City's umbrella organization looking into "low-carbon society systems" and figuring out ways to combine electricity and hydrogen in urban planning.

Copyright Jonathan Ramsey / AOL 2013

The station attends to its own needs save for the supply of gas, with every other step performed on-site. You might have guessed by the involvement of two gas companies that hydrogen is produced with the steam reformation process – methane is piped in to react with steam, hydrogen and carbon dioxide emerging as the result. The hydrogen is reformed at a rate of 1000 Nm3/h (1,000 cubic meters per hour at 'Normal' pressure and temperature – normal defined usually as 1 atmosphere of pressure and either 0, 15 or 20 degrees Celsius). It is then sent to a primary compressor which takes it to 40 MPa (about 5,000 psi) and stored in five 300-liter tanks. It is then sent to a "filling package" to be compressed at 82 MPa, after which it is sent to a cryogenic device for cooling down to between -40 and -30 C. Finally, the cooled hydrogen is dispensed at 70 MPa to either fuel cell vehicles or fuel cell buses.

toyota city ecoful town hydrogen station

High-speed filling means it takes about five minutes to fill a car. But in a ten-hour day the station can only produce enough hydrogen to fill 30 cars or six buses.

The ability to fill buses is a big deal because it means they can refill in the city center. Until the station at Ecoful Town went online, the Toyota City fuel cell buses working in the city had to go to the research building at Toyota Motor Company to refuel, which is on private property outside the center. High-speed filling at 2,000 cubic meters per hour means it takes about five minutes to fill a car, about ten minutes to fill a bus. They're trying to get the target for a car down to three minutes. It didn't look difficult to do, our demonstrator placing the nozzle onto the receiver of a Highlander FCV, pressing a button to initiate refueling, then pressing another button on the bowser when he wanted to stop fueling. The nozzle is a thick piece of kit, though – we were told that it's about twice as thick as a European nozzle because of safety regulations. It might take five minutes to fill a car, but in a ten-hour day the station can only produce enough hydrogen to fill 30 cars or six buses. That's how long the reformation, compression and cryogenics processes take.

Building hydrogen stations remains an expensive proposition: we were told they were trying to get to a unit cost of 200 million yen ($2.03M US) for a single station, but it costs about twice that amount right now, or something like four million dollars. Just as it has done with electric vehicles, the Japanese government is providing large subsidies to the H2 filling station effort; our guide wouldn't give us a number when we asked if the government was helping, but laughed and said, through the translator, "Oh, yes, big subsidies."

Customers get in on the subsidies as well, since for the moment it doesn't cost FCV drivers anything to fill their tanks – this early in the study and implementation of fuel cell vehicles, the hydrogen itself is being offered free. All they need to do is make a reservation.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 66 Comments
      DaveMart
      • 1 Year Ago
      @Marco: Many thanks. Glad you find the links interesting. The pace of advance in the field is astonishing, probably greater than for anything outside of the microprocessor world.
      DaveMart
      • 1 Year Ago
      @Darryl: Battery cars are here to stay. As Nissan is aware, you build an electric car, and develop the parts and system, hoping for economies of scale to bring the cost down. Whether the electricity comes from a battery or a fuel cell is a secondary issue, as most of the car is the same either way. And combining them for a plug in fuel cell hybrid is not the complex piece of engineering that building the Volt and marrying a combustion engine set up and an electric car was. We don't know several of the factors in working out what will do which, or what will be the combinations. If batteries drop in price and rise in capacity fast enough, it may be that most cars are simply big batteries in a car, as in the Tesla. If fuel cells drop in price faster than batteries, and also hydrogen production costs, then it might be mostly fuel cell cars, but they could also easily be combined with batteries, so you might buy a 12-16kwh plug in car, and charge that at home for your daily commute, but simply use the fuel cell and the hydrogen for a zero pollution at point of use range extender. Incidentally hydrogen does not 'go off' when stored in a tank, unlike petrol. So I am very confident that you will be able to get a battery only car if that is what you prefer, after all, from the manufacturers point of view they really only have to take out the fuel cell gubbins and put in some more batteries, although weight and range is a more pressing issue for battery cars, so not all could be practically converted. Going the other way and making a battery car into a fuel cell car is altogether a more complex issue, as you have to add a lot of stuff which is not in the BEV. The main effect of fuel cell cars on battery cars will be to reduce the cost of the many components they share in common due to increased volume.
      Dave
      • 1 Year Ago
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwALcp5JF-w&feature=youtu.be "Brussels, 17 September 2013 -- EU decision-makers and industry leaders joined forces yesterday at the annual Drive 'n' Ride event to discuss how zero-emission, hydrogen powered fuel cell electric vehicles can help meet European emission targets."
      Marco Polo
      • 1 Year Ago
      @ Val The big oil Western oil companies have invested hundreds of billions, in researching and developing renewable energy. On the balance it was a very unprofitable exercise. (Although Exxon did initiate the Lithium battery, and Chevron rescued the Geo-thermal industry). As long as governments are prepared to fund R&D, corporations will not interfere ! (By the way, I'm not opposed to government funding of fast charging ). Nor am I an advocate for FCV's, Oil companies or H2 as a fuel. But no analysis can hope to be realistic, unless all the possibilities are taken into account, without bias. Shell doesn't really care what fuel you buy, gasoline, diesel, CNG/LPG or hydrogen, as long as you buy it from Shell. Governments would prefer H2 technology, because it's perceived as being Eco-friendly, and more importantly, provides the same (or similar) tax revenue structure as currently exists. These are powerful forces in favour of H2 technology. It's foolish to ignore the strength of such influences with public opinion .
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      Everything in Japan is more expensive. The Japanese government recently set aside nearly $1 billion to subsidize 12,000 charging stations, including 4,000 fast charging points. Several automakers, including Nissan, Honda, and Mitsubishi are teaming up to share costs to pick up the rest of the tab for those stations. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-29/japan-carmakers-team-up-to-hasten-buildup-of-electric-chargers.html
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'd like to point out that the hydrogen station in the article above is only a small part of an overall much larger project: The Ecoful Town itself, which is a full-scale exhibition of a potential city of the future. http://toyota-ecofultown.com/english/ "Toyota City Mayor Toshihiko Ohta spoke of their aim in establishing the Toyota Ecoful Town (hereafter Ecoful Town) (Photo #1): "The Toyota City Low-carbon Society System Verification and Promotion Conference was established in 2010 to promote the Toyota City Low-carbon Society Verification Project (Smart Melit (Mobility & Energy Life in Toyota City)). Currently 35 private businesses and organizations are participating. The next generation of smart cities and smart communities will be created through the application of innovative technologies and products developed by such large numbers of businesses and organizations. I would like this project to be a place where people can have simulated experiences and imagine how a future low-carbon society will change our lifestyles and our towns." http://jscp.nepc.or.jp/article/jscpen/20130405/346598/
        Marcopolo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        @ Letstakeawalk (Sigh) I have no idea why someone can be so opposed to H2 technology development, (or maybe Toyota) as to down-rate you for posting information about such an interesting and worthwhile project as Ecoful Town .
          archos
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Marcopolo
          Dary, fyi I didn't hit the wrong button!
          DarylMc
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Marcopolo
          Hi Marcopolo It might be that just like me with your reply that they accidently clicked the wrong button:) On a side note I did not manage to get to the World Solar Challenge but the Team which I met came in at 7th place. It does not surprise me but more than half of the field did not make it to Adelaide. I think the race is interesting because the rules have imposed more restrictions which make it harder to achieve previous high speeds by requiring the driver to be in an upright seated position and not laying flat. There was also a class for 2 seat vehicles which may make DF blow his load due to light weight and aero and they were quite impressive. Congratulations to Nuon Solar Car Team who averaged 90kmh for the distance. http://www.worldsolarchallenge.org/
          Marco Polo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Marcopolo
          @ DarylMc Yeah, I agree, I have long since lost interest in the voting system. World Solar Challenge, grows bigger each year. Some of the results are amazing. The Nuon Solar Car Team's average 90kmh for the distance, was indeed a great effort. I'm currently in Cairns, QLD, where I'm watching in disbelief at the appallingly draconian legislation passed by the Queensland government in relation to the bikie gangs. ( Queensland, beautiful one day, crazy the next ! )
      JakeY
      • 1 Year Ago
      Nozzle doesn't look thicker than a CHAdeMO connector. If they put a handle on it, it should be more manageable. Looks unwieldy to hold when it's just a cylinder (and a thick one at that).
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JakeY
        In the SAE J2601 standard, there is an illustration of a handle that is closer in design to current gasoline nozzles. http://www.energy.ca.gov/contracts/notices/2012-07-10_workshop/presentations/SAE_Jesse_Schneider_Fueling_Protocol.pdf Here's a better one, SAE TIR J2799 which includes IrDA Wireless communication.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      More info on the station: "The Toyota Ecoful Town※2 Hydrogen Station was constructed by HySUT members Iwatani Corporation and Toyo Gas Co., Ltd. utilizing the combined achievements in technological development and operating knowledge amassed the companies have developed to date. By adopting a package-type hydrogen station from German firm Linde incorporating one of the nation’s largest direct filling method※3 high-flow compressors, the station achieves improved convenience, takes up less space and reduces costs, and will conduct a comprehensive demonstration aimed at the future development of commercial hydrogen stations through the filling of fuel cell vehicles (“FCVs,” hereafter) and fuel cell buses (“FC buses,” hereafter). " http://www.iwatani.co.jp/eng/newsrelease/detail.php?idx=49 Part of the intent of the Ecoful Station is to show how quickly and cheaply a hydrogen station can be constructed by utilizing a pre-engineered package solution (of the sort I've mentioned many times). An intial temporary pre-fab station can be set up to serve a very small market, and can be later replaced by a larger station as demand grows (currently planned for 2015). "Toyota Eco Full Town employs a direct filling type whereby hydrogen is created with city gas as the fuel and the FCV is filled with hydrogen directly using a large volume compressor with a capacity of 2,000 Nm3 an hour. This is a package facility complete with a large volume ionic compressor and a pre-cool facility and is produced by the German firm – Linde." http://www.gasworld.com/news/regions/north-pacific/trial-h2-stations-lead-to-commercialisation/2002512.article
      DaveMart
      • 1 Year Ago
      On the question of: 'Where is the hydrogen to come from?' It is by no means true that the use iof hydrogen means fossil fuels under another guise. For instance: 'A research team led by Yat Li, associate professor of chemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz, developed the solar-microbial device and reported their results in a paper published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano. The hybrid device combines a microbial fuel cell (MFC) and a type of solar cell called a photoelectrochemical cell (PEC). In the MFC component, bacteria degrade organic matter in the wastewater, generating electricity in the process. The biologically generated electricity is delivered to the PEC component to assist the solar-powered splitting of water (electrolysis) that generates hydrogen and oxygen. Either a PEC or MFC device can be used alone to produce hydrogen gas. Both, however, require a small additional voltage (an “external bias”) to overcome the thermodynamic energy barrier for proton reduction into hydrogen gas. The need to incorporate an additional electric power element adds significantly to the cost and complication of these types of energy conversion devices, especially at large scales. In comparison, Li’s hybrid solar-microbial device is self-driven and self-sustained, because the combined energy from the organic matter (harvested by the MFC) and sunlight (captured by the PEC) is sufficient to drive electrolysis of water. In effect, the MFC component can be regarded as a self-sustained “bio-battery” that provides extra voltage and energy to the PEC for hydrogen gas generation. “The only energy sources are wastewater and sunlight,” Li said. “The successful demonstration of such a self-biased, sustainable microbial device for hydrogen generation could provide a new solution that can simultaneously address the need for wastewater treatment and the increasing demand for clean energy.”' http://fuelcellsworks.com/news/2013/10/14/new-device-harnesses-sun-and-sewage-to-produce-hydrogen-fuel/ Clearly the resource base from sewage, chicken and pig farms etc is substantial, and equally clearly it could not on its own provide all the power for transport, but it gives the lie to the meme that hydrogen means just fossil fuels.
        DarylMc
        • 12 Hours Ago
        @DaveMart
        Hi DaveMart Yeah I think it is worthwhile for people to consider the waste heat from the refrigeration and compression processes. In some places it could be put to good use. Those processes you mentioned make take a long time or never to be commercially viable. But to me it seems there are a number of issues which people might contemplate regarding alternative fuels. For some people it is global warming. Others might be concerned about local air pollution. Some may want to keep the status quo or have a need to travel unlimited distances by fossil fuel. Still others might be concerned about domestic energy reliance. Some might feel a self sufficiency by generating meeting their needs by solar power. And for most it all comes down to the cost they have to pay. Even though I personally would prefer battery EV's for my own future use there are plenty of reasons for governments to pursue hydrogen fuel. I don't think we have even scratched the surface of why we do the things we do regarding transport.
        DaveMart
        • 12 Hours Ago
        @DaveMart
        And on an altogether different scale: 'Chemists at Boston College have achieved a series of breakthroughs in their efforts to develop an economical means of harnessing artificial photosynthesis by narrowing the voltage gap between the two crucial processes of oxidation and reduction, according to their latest research, published this week in the journal Angewandte Chemie. The team reports it has come within two-tenths of the photovoltage required to mimic oxidation and reduction respectively using unique photoanodes and photocathodes the team developed using novel nanowire components and coatings. Narrowing the gap using economical chemical components, the group moves researchers closer to using the human-made reaction for unique applications such as solar energy harvesting and storage.' And: '"Our system, made of oxygen, silicon and iron -- three of the four most abundant elements on earth -- can now provide more than 1 volt of power together," said Wang. "Now we are just two-tenths of a volt short on the photoanode. That's a significant narrowing of the gap." He says closing the gap completely is entirely within reach, particularly since other researchers have used different systems to do so. He said his lab might partner with other researchers in an effort to close the gap. "With our innovations on the photocathode alone, this two-tenths of a volt is within reach," said Wang. "The real exciting part is that we were able to achieve six tenths of a volt using rust. That has never been done before."' http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131011093958.htm Can they close the gap? I don't know, but neither do detractors of hydrogen and fuel cells. Certainly if they do then hydrogen provision via otherwise impractical schemes like Desertec come into view, as hydrogen is inherently transportable and storable, which has been the Achilles' heel of solar use. So notions that hydrogen is hugely less efficient than battery cars and so can be dismissed after some, usually faulty, back of the envelope calculations depending on the electrolysis of water, and doing so in a pretty dumb way without capturing otherwise waste heat, depend on this, and several other ways of generating hydrogen which are being researched, not coming off.
        Marco Polo
        • 12 Hours Ago
        @DaveMart
        @ Dave Mart, Thank you for that series of interesting and informative posts.
      Dave
      • 1 Year Ago
      http://autos.yahoo.com/blogs/motoramic/driving-car-toyota-wants-save-world-145312879.html "A long-time proponent of hydrogen power, Toyota reaffirmed its commitment last week, saying it would sell a fuel-cell car to the public by 2015 for about $50,000 a copy. To prove its veracity, the automaker flew a handful of journalists to its home-base in Japan to test drive the company’s latest and most advanced fuel cell vehicle."
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      Archos, by my math, 12,000 stations at $8k per would only be a total of $96 million.
      DaveMart
      • 1 Year Ago
      Another cogent critique by a downrating, I see. Perhaps the genius who is offended by the science could present his or her arguments, or are they simply outraged that the universe does not agree with their prejudices?
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