The much talked about, and quit frankly hideous hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai fuel cell car will launch in Japan on 1 December 2015.
For those not fluent in Japanese, â€˜Miraiâ€™ means future in Japanese â€“ and according the leviathan auto-maker, it signals the start of a new age of vehicles. As the name suggest, the Mirai It uses hydrogen, an important future energy source, to generate electric power.
Mirai uses the Toyota Fuel Cell System (TFCS), which brings together fuel cell and hybrid technologies. It includes Toyotaâ€™s new, proprietary fuel cell stack and high-pressure hydrogen tanks. The TFCS is more energy efficient than internal combustion engines and emits no CO2 or pollutants when the vehicle is driven. A generous cruising range and a hydrogen refuelling time of around three minutes provides the same level of convenience as a petrol-powered car.
What Toyota donâ€™t mention is, is where does the Hydrogen comes from? Well for now it has to made, and of course this means using (mostly) fossil fuel derived energy.
According to Toyota, â€œHydrogen has the benefit of being able to be generated from many different natural sources and man-made by products â€“ even sewage sludge. It can also be created from water using natural, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. When compressed, it has a higher energy density than batteries and it is relatively easy to store and transport. These qualities give it the potential to be used in the future for power generation and a wide range of other applications.â€
In theory this is wonderful and poses a serious alternative to petroleum based engines currently causing (some) of the environmental mayhem. I say some, because the humble car is an easy target, we do tend to forget, industry, planes, ship etc who release a massive amount of toxic CO2 into the atmosphere.
Which is an argument for another day. In the meantime we have some more technical details regarding the Mirai. To the regular car buffs out there the new Toyota FC stack which powers the MIrai, has a maximum power output of 114kW and 335Nm, which is quite impressive really, not earth shattering though (perhaps thatâ€™s the point).
For those of you with large foreheads who paid attention at school, the efficiency of its electricity generation has been improved by using 3D fine mesh flow channels3 â€“ a world first â€“ which ensure uniform generation on the cell surfaces. This has helped give the FC stack compact dimensions, a high level of performance and a world-leading4 power output density of 3.1kW/L, a figure 2.2 times greater than that achieved in Toyotaâ€™s previous FCHV-adv model.
Obviously transporting hydrogen can pose a bit of risk and Toyota have taken all the necessary measures to ensure that the MIrai is no more dangerous to drive than a regular car. In the unlikely event a leak does happen, measures are in place to ensure immediate detection, stoppage of the flow and the prevention of any build-up of hydrogen in the car, which includes:
â€¢ High-pressure hydrogen tanks with excellent permeation prevention performance, strength and durability.
â€¢ Hydrogen sensors to provide warnings and shut off the tanksâ€™ main stop valves.
â€¢ The location of the tanks and other hydrogen-related parts outside the cabin, so that if there is a leak, the hydrogen will disperse easily.
Like all electrically driven cars the Mirai will operate with an eerie quiet not associated with motoring, at least not for the old school out there. But in the same way that smart phones have become an extension of our lives, so too will electrically propelled cars.
In the Mirai the driver can make us of a â€˜brake supportâ€™ mode for efficient use of the carâ€™s regenerative braking function, increasing braking performance when needed, for example when negotiating a long downhill section of road.
Interior appointments and comforts are set to like any other car on sale today, and will include amongst other features, 8-way power seats, 4.2-inch TFT instrument binnacle screen, dashboard switch gear is said to feature electrostatic controls that will need just a light touch on the panel to operate. Heated seats and steering wheel and fully automatic air-con also make an appearance as standard fare.
So will we see the Mrai in South Africa any time soon? Well to answer that we need to ask another question, â€œWhen will hydrogen refuelling stations be available in South Africa?â€ Because until that is a reality, sales of the Toyota Mirai will only begin in areas where hydrogen refuelling stations are already in place.