Toyota has brought what it claims – with some justification, if it works –the ultimate eco-car a step closer to reality. The fuel cell hybrid vehicle (FCHV) was seen by Treehuggers last year following our report on testing of the vehicle in California’s Death Valley.
Toyota says the FCHV is the closest vehicle yet to the ultimate eco-car. It features an electric-motor hybrid system powered by a battery and fuel cells supplied with high-pressure hydrogen gas. The FCHV has moved a step closer to a real on-sale date as it starts long-term trials with a transport company in Nagoya, Japan. The FCHV, doesn’t emit any atmospheric pollutants at all and is based on the mid-sized Highlander SUV (known as the Kluger in some other markets). Toyota plans to use the vehicle to obtain a wide range of data necessary for commercial production of FCHVs, which should now be no more than five years away.
Toyota pursued efficiency right down to the smallest details, saving about 40kg of weight by using aluminium for the roof, bonnet, fenders and side doors, for example. A large rear spoiler suppresses turbulence and a flat underbody reduces wind resistance, resulting in a 0.326 coefficient of drag - excellent for an SUV. Fuel-efficient tyres reduce rolling resistance.
Interestingly, carbon dioxide is used as an air-conditioning refrigerant, avoiding the use of CFCs or HFCs (chlorofluorocarbons or hydrofluorocarbons), a move which reduces the potential effect on global warming to a level of 1/1300th compared with a conventional air conditioning system. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which consume very little power, are used for the rear combination lamps.
Safety was also a major requirement of course, so crash testing of the Toyota FCHV was particularly rigorous, including new safety confirmation tests for high-voltage components and for protection against hydrogen leaks. If a collision occurs, sensors in the Toyota FCHV's front, rear and sides detect impact and instantly shut the valves on the high-pressure hydrogen tanks.
For additional safety, the valves are also closed if a leak is detected by any of the hydrogen sensors placed on the fuel-cell stack, bonnet, high-pressure hydrogen tanks and cabin ceiling. The high-pressure hydrogen tanks are designed for maximum safety to avoid rupture even if the vehicle suffers a serious rear-end collision.
The Toyota FCHV's current cruising range is about 200 miles, or 330km.