Like a television-broadcasting company covering the Olympics, Toyota is looking to market its future in hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle production by taking the personal approach. In this case, the Japanese automaker is telling the backstory of Jackie Birdsall, an engineer at Toyota Technical Center who Toyota says is "obsessed" with fuel-cell technology.

A Sacramento native, Birdsall is responsible for testing fuel-cell vehicles and making sure hydrogen stations fill the tanks of the cars in a "reasonable" timeframe. Long a gearhead, she attended Flint, MI's Kettering University (formerly General Motors Institute) and, among other places, worked for the California Fuel Cell Partnership before joining Toyota in 2012. Her first car was an '87 Camry.

That's one personal side of Toyota's hydrogen push, and shows another way Toyota is introducing the world to this new powertrain (see also: winter performance). The nitty-gritty is made up of things like working with FirstElement Fuel Inc. on a hydrogen-refueling network in California. As for its fuel-cell sedan, which was displayed in FCV prototype form at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and is due next year, Toyota said it expects the car to have a full-tank range of about 300 miles and a five-minute refueling time. That's if Ms. Birdsall has anything to say about it. Check out Toyota's press release about Birdsall below.
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Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution

A healthy obsession leads Jackie Birdsall and TTC to the forefront of history

The word she keeps using is "obsessed."

Jackie Birdsall became "obsessed" with cars when she was a teenager. That made her "obsessed" with the history of auto icons like Henry Ford and Lee Iacocca. In 2003, she did an internship with Daimler-Chrysler, leading to an "obsession" with hydrogen fuel cell technology.

And now, as an engineer at Toyota Technical Center, Birdsall is "obsessed" with bringing fuel cell technology to the masses.

But perhaps you need to be obsessed when you're trying to change the world. After all, revolutions don't blossom from complacency.

Leading an alternative fuel revolution is just what Birdsall and her partners on the Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle team are doing. Collectively, they're finding tangible ways to reduce fossil fuels in the automobile world and figuring out how hydrogen fuel cells can be useful and affordable. In 2015, that obsession will bear fruit when Toyota's FCV hits the markets in California, Japan and Europe.

Individually, Birdsall's job is to test Toyota's fuel cell vehicle and ensure hydrogen stations fill tanks in a reasonable amount of time. She also represents Toyota on a variety of codes and standards committees. But no matter her role, her obsession is clear.

The Road Less Traveled

Birdsall grew up in Sacramento and, as a teen, found a knack for modifying a friend's Honda Civic. Her first job in the auto industry was at Pep Boys. Her first car was a 1987 Camry. "It was silver, and it was a little embarrassing to drive to high school because I did not go to high school in 1987," Birdsall says. "The car was born three years after me. But I ended up loving it."

Her passion for the auto industry boiled over and the California girl decided to go to Kettering University, formerly General Motors Institute, in Flint, Mich. Flint was a major player in the auto industry's history. Some of America's greatest cars were manufactured there, and she could live on Chevrolet Avenue. What more did she need?

"They had great classes," Birdsall says. "You get to learn metallurgy and welding and the applied math and theory behind how an engine works. I got so excited about it. It blew my mind. I just wanted to work with vehicles. But I didn't define my concentration until after my first co-op."

Kettering's unique split between classroom and work experience did its job. She stumbled upon Daimler-Chrysler's fuel cell prototype during that 2003 internship. That was a key moment in her life.

"So I can work on a car that has zero emission, that uses fuel you can make from any domestic resource, fills up in a matter of minutes and can completely replace the internal combustion vehicle?" She says. "I became obsessed."

There's that word.

The path to Toyota fell into place: Move to Vancouver for a co-op with General Hydrogen, a fuel cell forklift company. Then graduate from Kettering and join the California Fuel Cell Partnership to help major car companies develop hydrogen-powered vehicles. Birdsall finally came to Toyota in 2012 because it was clear they would be one of the first companies to mass produce hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Nerd Talk

Yes, Jackie Birdsall is a proud nerd. But she's not a nerd in the old fashioned sense. She defines the new nerd who uses her passion and encyclopedic knowledge to help solve a problem that needs solving. That's what she's doing with fuel cells.

She's the type of nerd who speaks about her expertise with so much enthusiasm, she pulls you to her side with ease.

The highlight of her life so far? Maybe the time she saw Geoffrey Ballard at General Hydrogen. "I geeked out so hard," Birdsall says. "I had to call my friend to tell her Dr. Ballard was there and ask her if I should say hi. She told me if I didn't, I'd regret it."

She did say hi. He said hi back. But wait, who the heck is Geoffrey Ballard?

"He was a huge advocate for fuel cells," Birdsall says. "He was THE MAN!"

Turns out the late Dr. Ballard is considered the father of the fuel cell industry and the founder of General Hydrogen. That explains Birdsall's geeking out. Imagine a movie buff seeing Walt Disney or Charlie Chaplin back in the day. That's the kind of importance we're talking about.

Ballard is part of the reason Birdsall is at Toyota. He's part of the reason Toyota is proud to be among the first to bring hydrogen-powered cars to market.

Even when that happens, Birdsall's fuel cell obsession won't stop. But it will be a pretty big moment for her and her teammates at TTC.

"Right now, I have the best job in the world for me," she says. "I'm going to lose my mind when the first vehicle rolls off the production line. To be talking about a full commercial launch, that's pretty much the biggest victory I can have in my life."


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  • 29 Comments
      2 wheeled menace
      • 7 Months Ago
      Ah, i see that autobloggreen is not the only place where people suffering of a single molecule fetish can be found..
        Letstakeawalk
        • 7 Months Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        Rule 34. There's plenty of room for everyone's interests here on the WWW.
          paulwesterberg
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          Unfortunately our finite universe only has room for one set of facts.
          danfred311
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          ltaw, the 3x lower efficiency of HFC cars, that it typically comes from fossil fuels, that it's a much more complex and expensive solution, that there is no infrastructure. you have been told these things many times yet you mindlessly pretend there are no issues. Elon Musk has said it's idiotic. Carlos Ghosn has cowardly said he sees no way they can mass launch in 2015 because of missing infrastructure (but is actually weak minded enough to leave room that it might become something some day) It's also a fact that the 500 or so Honda Clarity vehicles offered at a loss in California found virtually no takers. I think there is something like 4 of those cars on the roads right now. Maybe a couple of people live close to one of the refillers and figured it would be fun enough to try. Do you remember all the user reviews of that car? I don't either.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          What set of facts are you referring to? Ms. Birdsall enjoys her job, and her employer is proud enough of her participation to give her a little public recognition. How does this reality conflict with the universe as we know it?
      danfred311
      • 7 Months Ago
      Well, I'm convinced.
      HVH20
      • 7 Months Ago
      Is this Brad's sister?
      RC
      • 7 Months Ago
      Electricity is already everywhere. Hydrogen is nowhere and carries a hefty price tag to taxpayers.
      Spec
      • 7 Months Ago
      That is one weird press release. Here . . . read this bio of one of our engineers obsessed with fuel cells. Uh . . . OK. So? Do you have any specs on a fuel cell vehicle? A launch date? A price? No . . . but read this bio!
      • 7 Months Ago
      The REAL next step Jackie, fill up w/ water (H2O) and split the H2 using solar power coatings and ubercapacitors. Then you might have something.
        Joeviocoe
        • 7 Months Ago
        The best capacitors are still 10 times heavier than Li-Ion batteries... but when they do become competitive (graphene, CNT, whatever)... it will still be a horrible inefficient waste to go through such chemical conversions like electricity to hydrogen, compression, the back to electricity again.
      fairfireman21
      • 7 Months Ago
      That is one UGLY car.
      Levine Levine
      • 7 Months Ago
      Toyota's propaganda machine is on a roll.
      goodoldgorr
      • 7 Months Ago
      Im glad to see an important international car company like Toyota ignoring batteries and investing in more high tech clean plentiful hydrogen. We are just at the pre-beginning of hydrogen tech. Notice that all hydrogen fuelcell cars and suvs prototype never had troubles in their million miles testing nor the hydrogen pumps. This is sound technology that do not wear. It's better a fuel that do not pollute and that we can make instead of pumping and burning and polluting like gasoline and diesel. Hydrogen fuelcells are efficient returning 75 mpg in a suv. This is 4x time the mpg of gasoline. Hydrogen fuelcells are hybrid by nature sp there is no need to add extra components that are costly, this is included at no extra cost. Hydrogen stations will attrack local and regional tourism as people will gartner to witness non-polluting transportation. Im eager to witness that for myself in the future but I won't go to California as it will take too much petrol to get there, I will rely to youtube for that at the beginning but im awaiting the same infrastructure here in the north-east. The icing on the cake will come when we will find efficient water electrolysis method for producing hydrogen at the point of sale. No more costly infrastructure costs like petrol of fast chargers network. Every one serve in minute and good for 300 miles approx. This will be a solution good for the long term future. A fuelcell car is good for 40 years and is easily recyclable as the main parts do not wear like the tank, the fuelcell and the electric motors..
        Jon
        • 7 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Wow. Is anything in your post true or accurate? Is this sarcasm?
        fairfireman21
        • 7 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        goodoldgorr, The tanks will have a life span. When I was on the Fire department I was in charge of equipment so I had to send out the air-pacs every so often for them to be hydro teasted. The steel tanks had to be checked every 15 years, but when we went to the fiberglass tanks they had to be tested every 5 years. As long as they passed the hydro test they were ok but if they didn't they were junk. To have them tested they must be sent out to do so. So when they are out you would need a back up tank. Without a tank a car will not run. I do not see car companies putting the cheaper priced steel tanks in the cars I think they will be either fiberglass or the very costly carbon fiber. This also depends on the amount of presure that they hold, the size, and the shape. the higher the presure the sooner they need teated.
        Neil Blanchard
        • 7 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        "clean plentiful hydrogen" is an oxymoron. Hydrogen is not plentiful hear on earth.
      Ryan
      • 7 Months Ago
      The only way I see H2 working is as a range extender for a battery EV. That way you can put the stations on the major highways outside of the big cities, and as long as you have enough of a charge to make it to the first H2 station, you will be able to drive to the next city. But, for your daily commute, you would use the battery and plug in at home or at work.
        Neil Blanchard
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Ryan
        That's essentially what all fuel cell cars are. If only you could plug them in ...
      Joeviocoe
      • 7 Months Ago
      Grasping at straws it seems. Hoping a fresh face will warm the hearts of policy makers in Sacramento.... so they can convince California to keep paying for the H2 infrastructure with tax dollars.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        You're much too cynical, Joeviocoe. It's simply a light fluff personality piece. We'd love to have hard details (cost, performance), but this is simply a normal part of the regular new car promotional marketing program, not in the least bit "grasping". It's nice to know something about the people who are working diligently on a very difficult project; it's also a nice reward for the worker, getting a bit of public recognition from their bosses.
          danfred311
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          do you still believe HFC has a future? do you believe they will launch in 2015? or is it dawning on you that you were always wrong
      John Bailo
      • 7 Months Ago
      What a great role model for women and girls pursing STEM jobs!
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