Going places on hydrogen power

Going places on hydrogen power
Going places on hydrogen power

Fuel-cell technology is showing promise

Our mission was to take a Toyota Mirai from Teddington on the South West outskirts of London and drive it to Rainham in Essex, a distance of about 68 miles if you use the M25.

Why? Because the Mirai is at the vanguard of the move towards cars powered by hydrogen, a zero-emissions gas, and there was a filling station in Teddington and a new one just opened in Rainham.

But how do you fill up a hydrogen fuel-cell car? It’s quite trick and has various safety measures, including a ring on the pump ‘talking’ to the car via infrared. It needs all this as the gas is pumped at 700 bar pressure and it’s at -40C. You wouldn’t want to spill that on your trousers. But the system clicks and whirrs into place and then it’s soon done, 60 litres into the tank. The beauty is that that 60 litres of fuel weighs 40kg, but 60 litres of hydrogen weighs 5kg.

Less weight means less energy to move the Mirai, and we’re soon on the way. The Mirai cruises comfortably at around the 70mph mark while we ponder the advances and advantages. Hydrogen fuel cells are getting smaller, lighter and cheaper and of course there is no pollution whatsoever.

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Toyota currently builds about 700 hydrogen cars a year, but by 2020 it expects that to be around 30,000. There’s a critical mass that once achieved will make this mainstream – think Toyota’s own Prius for an example.

The company behind much of the infrastructure in the UK is ITM Power, and it is building more fuel stations, since without them that critical mass is never going to be reached. The latest is at Rainham in Essex, where we turn up after an easy journey. This latest station shows what is possible, as it makes hydrogen from water using solar power. No emissions in the creation of the fuel, no emissions in using that fuel.

It transpires we’ve used exactly 1kg of fuel for that 68 miles, at a cost of £9.95. Hydrogen is about 30% more expensive than petrol right now, but like all technolgoies it is expected to become significantly cheaper as progress accelerates. It’ll never catch on – where have we heard that before?

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