Toyota Sees Hydrogen Car Fill-Ups at Dealers to Trash Dumps

Jan 07, 2014 4:30 pm ET

(Updates with engineering professor’s comments in eighth paragraph. For more CES stories, see SHOW <GO>.)

Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp., which is getting ready to sell Camry-sized sedans powered by fuel cells next year in the U.S., plans to help create a network of hydrogen stations that may include pumps at car dealers and even trash dumps.

The world’s largest automaker showed its hydrogen-fueled FCV sedan, a concept version of the car Toyota will sell in the U.S. and Japan next year, at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas yesterday. Along with cutting costs to make the vehicles, Toyota will do “whatever we can” to get more fuel stations set up, Bob Carter, Toyota’s U.S. group vice president, said in an interview.

“We’re throwing everything against the wall,” Carter said yesterday in Las Vegas. “We know we have to push the infrastructure.”

Toyota, Hyundai Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. have announced plans to sell hydrogen cars and crossovers initially to drivers in California, where strict state rules require increasing numbers of “zero-emission” vehicles to be sold each year through 2025. Currently, the state has about 10 public hydrogen fuel pumps, though the number is set to rise from this year, with a target of 100 more within a decade.

California committed last year to spending as much as $200 million to expand its fueling network by 2024. Toyota is working with the University of California at Irvine and state officials to identify ideal locations for future fuel pumps. Only 68 stations are needed to ensure most California drivers have a place to refuel, Carter said.

Landfills, Dumps

While hydrogen for fuel and industrial uses is produced mainly by steaming it out of natural gas, Toyota is exploring alternative sources including methane emitted from waste- treatment plants, trash dumps and landfills and agricultural sources, Craig Scott, the carmaker’s U.S. national manager for advanced technologies, said in an interview in Las Vegas.

The Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker is exploring how to work with other companies to set up pumps dispensing hydrogen from such sources, Scott said, without elaborating.

“This is a nice way to start the transition to a more sustainable form of hydrogen, though natural gas made from waste has a greener environmental footprint, so there is some competition for it,” said Constantine Samaras, assistant professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Convenient Refueling

“Toyota may be in a position to work with companies to locate hydrogen pumps at landfills or other sites that aren’t already connected to a natural gas pipeline,” Samaras said.

Some Toyota dealers in California may also install hydrogen pumps, Carter said.

Concrete steps by Toyota to set up stations will come within a few months, Carter said. “We’re going to do what we can to help kick-start the construction of convenient hydrogen refueling infrastructure.”

Fuel-cell autos are similar to battery-only models such as Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf hatchback and Tesla Motors Inc.’s Model S sedan in avoiding tailpipe pollution from burning gasoline.

Battery models carry electricity in their lithium-ion battery packs while fuel-cell vehicles make electricity on board in a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, with only water vapor as a byproduct. While hydrogen vehicles have a range comparable to gasoline vehicles and need only a few minutes to refuel -- compared with hours for most battery autos -- there are few hydrogen pumps currently open to the public.

Hydrogen critics include Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, who has derided the technology as too costly and complex to succeed in the consumer market.

Concept Car

Carter said yesterday that Toyota will supply a bigger number of fuel-cell sedans than initially planned, without providing either the previous or revised volume goal.

The company also hasn’t yet set a precise on-sale date or price for the car. Toyota engineers previously said it might be priced around $50,000 and will have driving range of at least 300 miles (483 kilometers) per fueling.

The concept car shown in Las Vegas produces enough energy to power a home for a week, Carter said. Toyota engineers are developing a device that connects to the car and would allow it to act as a backup generator, he said.

“Fuel-cell electric vehicles will be in our future sooner than many people believe, and in much greater numbers than anyone expected,” Carter said.

The company’s American depositary receipts rose 0.2 percent to $120.46 at the close in New York. They’ve gained 26 percent in the past 12 months. Toyota’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, California.

--Editors: Niamh Ring, Stephen West