When talking about electric mobility, there are a number of disadvantages that must be lived with. Many know the vicissitudes of the good of Javier Moltó traveling through half Spain with the BMW i3 looking for plugs in remote villages. Although it is undeniable that electric cars have allowed recovering part of the adventurous spirit of yesteryear when it comes to travel, they will not be able to win over the general public until they offer similar driving and use characteristics. And even then, they will have to fight against the habits and customs of the drivers. It is not for less: we have been more than a hundred years used to drive the car for hundreds of kilometers stopping to refuel for just a few minutes in service stations that inhabit all our roads, without noticing how much we have actually driven, after which we continue with our trips. Personally, I think that few people really worry if the autonomy of their vehicle is 600, 800 or 1000 kilometers: the average user refuels when the deposit starts to be empty and is fixed more on how much it pays at the pump than on how much It allows you to go through everything refueled. The more service stations there are, the less importance drivers will give to autonomy (this always, of course, that autonomy is sufficient to get from one to another).
The proposal made by Toyota (together with Honda and Hyundai) with the fuel cell is simple: to offer vehicles with an experience as similar as possible to the one we are already used to facilitate the transition to a more sustainable mobility model. Your message is clear: do not worry about autonomy or not having your own parking space with plug. Just take care of driving the car. We take care of everything else. In this way, the problem is solved and finally we can say goodbye to fossil fuels and climate change. Or not?
One of the questions that most people ask me about the Mirai is “And where do you fill it?”. Well, not in many places, the truth. For starters, only a few regions in the world (Japan, California and Germany) are just beginning to set up a hydrogen distribution and supply network, where infrastructure is scarce and sales of fuel cell vehicles are limited to those users who live near them (as I mentioned in this post). In the case of Alba and me, living in Alameda the most viable option for us is the Hayward station, at least until the proposals open in Oakland and San Francisco. They are about 30kms in total round trip every two weeks that sometimes get heavy, but we try to include some walking stop to do the weekly shopping. Screenshot of the Toyota Entire application with the map of hydrogen stations in the Bay. The one closest to Alameda is Hayward. In addition to the Hayward bay, the San Francisco bay has some stations scattered across the bay, with a greater concentration to the south, in the San Jose area. These turn out to be useful when we make trips and we want to make sure we have plenty of cargo. Also sometimes we take advantage of loading the deposit if we get caught on the way home from not having to go to Hayward exclusively during the week. In fact, most stations are in the south of the state. As soon as we get out of the bay, we find the Coalinga station, which connects through the corridor of Interstate 5 between the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles, where, by the way, there are most of the stations in the state. In the north there are few stations: Tiburon, Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, which cover much of northern California and even go a few hundred kilometers in Nevada to visit, for example, the Gigafactoria de Tesla to chew a bit. Map of current California stations, under construction, and those planned for the future. You can see more details here outdoor vehicle cover .
The positive part of the fuel cell vehicles is that despite the limited infrastructure to refuel, the great autonomy and the fast loading speed they provide make you not afraid to stay lying. Even so, providing drivers with a solid and reliable infrastructure is, as of today, a pending issue in California. Let’s not talk about the regions where fuel cell cars are not yet sold. It may take decades until the fuel cell is viable for the general public.
When we acquired the car, I felt that the training they had given us on the refueling process had been incomplete and that we would have problems the first time we touched refueling. My fears were unfounded: the mechanics are very simple and bear a great similarity to the reporting process that takes place in self-service gas stations. When you arrive, you must place the car near the pump and turn it off. Next, a button that releases the lid of the hydrogen tank must be pressed from inside. This action disables the car simultaneously, leaving it in a state of lethargy until the charging process is completed or the tank lid is simply closed.
Pressing this button disables the car and opens the lid of the fuel tank. All in one!
When we open it, we find the first difference with a gasoline or diesel car: the connection between the hose and the car is made through a quick connection, and instead of a hole, we find a male connector where we must anchor the hose , which corresponds to the female connection. The connector of the car is protected plastic cap held by a magnet. It is ingenious and performs well its function. The lid of the tank has a support where you can leave the cap while the operation lasts. The male of the quick connection appears in the cargo space of the tank. The cap is located on the support. Note that the tank lid includes a warning about the expiration of the fuel tank: the loading and unloading cycles generate stress in the materials and Toyota limits the life of the tank to 15 years. In terminal it is equipped with a screen that asks you if you have received training on how to use the pump. If you click on the “NO” button, animations appear on the screen that indicate in a schematic way how the system is going. Alba and I have found that the Sacramento pump forces you to watch an explanatory video that lasts 10 minutes when you use them for the first time, at the end of which you receive a user code that you must save for the next time if you do not feel like swallowing the video again. I see it as an unnecessary nuisance. Once the first part is over, the screen tells you next to insert your Toyota debit card and types your zip code. After checking its validity, it asks you to insert the hose into the car’s spout.
We can now connect the hose to the car
The weight of the hose is considerable when compared to a gasoline or diesel hose. In addition, the weight is distributed towards the tip and not so much in the body, so you have to be careful when handling it because the movements that we will do with it are more clumsy. Another thing that surprises at the beginning is how rigid and short the hose is. It has little flexibility, so there is little room for placing the car in the service station: one must fine-tune the aim when parking for refueling. The process of hooking the hose to the car is simple and precise. This one slides without game given the little tolerance that exists between the two parts. When it reaches the bottom, the trigger is pressed and the system is blocked and sealed. When you press the trigger you feel the mechanism inside the mouthpiece and it gives the feeling of being robust and that it holds up well over time.
This is of vital importance, since a failure in the closing mechanism would lead to the escape of hydrogen during refueling and possible personal injuries when the hose fired with a pressure of 70 MPa (for comparison, a homemade pressure cooker reaches about 0.2). MPa). Finally, it only remains to raise the lever that unlocks the flow of hydrogen to the car and press the “H70” button on the terminal. Normally, the terminals have two refueling options: “H35” and “H70”. Although both are the same type of hydrogen, one is supplied at 35 MPa and the other at 70 MPa. With the latter you can put more amount of hydrogen in the tank thanks to the higher supply pressure, which allows you to compress more mass in the same volume. In practice, this translates into more autonomy. (Note: I can not help but think that the H35 and H70 could become the next bar-bar debate issue 95-gasoline versus 98-bar). The unlocking is done manually, although as it is light, there does not seem to be a mechanism directly connected to the hose.
We select H70. At the price of gold, yes. Note the use of the metric system. That brings many colleagues here and I get sick. After this last action, the process begins with a slight gas discharge that reminds of the pneumatic brakes of trucks and construction machinery, but longer and smoother. After a few seconds, the sound dims until it almost ceases, and then starts again. The recharge is therefore an intermittent process.
The screen warns you in advance that the load is intermittent.
Depending on the remaining capacity of the tank that we had at the beginning of the load, it usually takes between 3 and 5 minutes to complete the process, at the end of which an acoustic signal will warn us, along with a message on the terminal screen, that we can disconnect the hose from the car … if we can. The latter I say because it happens that the flow of hydrogen under pressure cools the hose to such an extent that sometimes it gets stuck with the spout and frost forms. Normally we will find this after a full refill of the deposit or reporting several cars in a row. In general, a soft wrist twist is enough to free the hose and complete the process. The hose usually freezes after recharging. It is best not to touch the mouthpiece with your fingers because it can cause burns. The temperature of liquid hydrogen is very low. At this point just leave the hose in its holder and close the lid of the tank, or the car will not turn on.
The recharge of the Toyota Mirai and in general, fuel cell vehicles is very simple and is very similar to what we are already used to doing. Only the lack of infrastructure and the high price of these vehicles means that today they are not an alternative to conventional motorized vehicles. If this is remedied, the transition to this type of vehicle could be very fast. Regarding the first point, in California there are plans to develop service stations underway. The data and lessons learned that are obtained here will be extrapolated to other markets, and can be useful when preparing strategies to achieve their mass adoption. On the page of the California Fuel Cell Partnership you can find more information and news about it:
On the other hand, the cost of the components in a fuel cell vehicle is significantly more expensive than in conventional motorized vehicles. Even higher than when the hybrids reached the market at the beginning of the last decade. In future articles I will try to analyze what are the current lines of research that pursue the reduction of costs in this technology.