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Toyota Motor corp. fuel-cell car MIRAI


On 15th December 2014, a new technology stepped onto the scene, ready to change the future of Earth and humanity.

Toyota raised the curtain on the era of the eco-car back when it announced the world’s first production-model hybrid vehicle. In December 2014 it announced the world’s first production-model fuel-cell vehicle: a completely new car that will run on hydrogen. That car was crowned with the name “MIRAI”, meaning “future”, to signal the arrival of a new car society.

MIRAI, “the ultimate eco-car”

MIRAI is a car with a new driving force. Instead of burning gasoline, it is powered by the chemical reaction of oxygen and hydrogen from a fuel cell.

One of the problems with fossil fuels is that they can only be produced in certain regions; another is the concern about supplies running out. Hydrogen doesn’t have these problems: it can be extracted from various materials all over the world, starting with water. Moreover, consuming hydrogen fuel does not cause CO2 emissions while the engine is running, because the emission caused by the chemical reaction is water. Another benefit to fuel cells is that they are very energy efficient. MIRAI is equipped with fuel cells that can theoretically convert 83% of the energy held in the hydrogen into electrical energy: more than twice as efficient as present-day gasoline engines. The excellent environmental capabilities of the fuel-cell vehicle MIRAI make it a new kind of eco-car.

Right now, the process of purifying hydrogen still causes CO2 emissions, so research and development is underway into a more efficient refinement method that does not emit CO2. Development continues even now on MIRAI with the goal of the “ultimate eco-car” that emits absolutely no CO2 during the production, transport, and storage of hydrogen.

“Driving in a different dimension” to the cars of the past

The novelty of the fuel-cell vehicle is not simply a difference in motor and fuel. The road performance also demonstrates just how advanced the fuel-cell vehicle really is.

Enjoy the characteristic sound of the fuel-cell car
In a fuel-cell vehicle, there is no sound or vibration from the engine. The drive is continuously quiet, with an acceleration sound that is different to both gasoline cars and electric cars. This characteristic sound experience heightens that feeling of anticipation that you get with every drive.

The smoothness of the drive
The fuel-cell vehicle doesn’t have a gear translating up-down motion into rotational motion, which needs to be shifted one step at a time; instead, you get a smooth, seamless drive. Moreover, the torque starts up from the moment that you step on the accelerator, exhibiting a powerful and smooth acceleration at a wide range of speeds.

Optimal layout for low center of gravity and weight
In traditional engine vehicles, the heavy engine must be placed either in the front or back of the car, because of the amount of heat the engine generates and the space available in the vehicle, so the center of gravity ends up biased one way or the other. However, the power unit of a fuel-cell vehicle can be designed in a relatively unlimited shape, and because it generates almost no heat, it can be placed under the floor. In fact, the MIRAI’s power unit is under the floor of the vehicle, placed right in the center, which leads to a low center of gravity and a balanced weight between front and rear, creating greater stability and controllability.

The normal mileage of a gasoline car

Two benefits of the fuel-cell vehicle compared to the electric vehicles that have become popular representatives of the eco-car are a lower refueling time and an ability to run for longer distances. Gasoline cars can typically travel approximately 650 kilometers on a full tank: the MIRAI can cover that distance with only 3 minutes of refueling time. To popularize the fuel-cell car, there is an urgent need to set up stations for dispensing hydrogen fuel, but we expect that in the near future, the sight of gasoline cars refueling with gasoline at gasoline stands will be replaced by a new normal: the sight of fuel-cell cars refueling with hydrogen at hydrogen stands.

The Toyota technological strength that made MIRAI possible

One particularly big hurdle to the development of the fuel-cell vehicle has been the platinum that is used as a component in batteries. In order to trigger the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen, about 100 grams of platinum is needed per vehicle. That increased the cost of manufacturing these vehicles. Toyota pushed toward the miniaturization of fuel cells, and succeeded in reducing the amount of platinum used to 1/3 of the original amount required.

In addition, MIRAI is equipped with numerous world’s first and world-record technologies. Many of the parts were developed in-house, starting with the systems at the very heart of the fuel cell, determinedly investing in being a car maker that can be proud of its high technology.

For example, the high-pressure hydrogen tank that stores the hydrogen that fuels the car was also developed in-house, achieving a world-leading tank storage performance at 5.7wt%. In order to withstand this high pressure, the tank that contains the hydrogen is reinforced using trilaminates on the outside of the plastic liner, comprising layers of carbon fiber–reinforced plastic to reinforce the pressure hearing intensity, and glass fiber–reinforced plastic to protects the surface. Furthermore, the carbon fiber–reinforced plastic also makes it more lightweight.

Shouldering the leadership of the hydrogen society

Hydrogen is the most plentiful chemical element in the universe, an element present in various materials found on Earth, and one of the most common elements in people’s daily life. In recent years we have come to recognize hydrogen’s great potential to change the nature of how humanity produces energy. This is why our country is increasing the pace of research and development into obtaining energy from hydrogen instead of fossil fuels and atomic fuels, with the aim of creating a “hydrogen society”.

Benefits of hydrogen as an energy source
•    It can be produced from a variety of primary resources, so it exists in such a large quantity that fossil fuels and atomic fuels simply cannot compare. When the technology is established, it will be possible to efficiently produce hydrogen fuel anywhere on earth, and it will be easy to supply it from areas with low geopolitical risk.
•    Renewable energies such as wind power and solar power produce an output that is difficult to tailor to demand. It is expected that the energy industry would become more efficient if the surplus renewable energy was used to generate hydrogen.
•    Fuel-cell vehicles and stationary fuel cells can be used as energy supply sources in cases of emergency such as natural disasters. MIRAI has the capability to supply power of around 60 kWh with a high output of up to 9 kW. It can connect to power feeding goods, and used as a source of electricity for residential and consumer electronic devices by transforming the direct-current power from an energy terminal set up in the trunk to alternate-current power.

On the one hand, there are many challenges to the popularization of hydrogen fuel; a particularly large hurdle is the emission of CO2 during every stage of the production, transport, and storage of hydrogen. In the near future, curbing the CO2 emissions in processes other than the generation of energy may allow us to change the human energy situation, producing truly clean energy.

Thus far, Toyota has been the company that reached for environmental performance as a new values system for automobiles, with its announcement of the world’s first production-model hybrid vehicle, the Prius. Now, with the MIRAI the same company is heralding the beginning of an era of fuel-cell vehicles, pointing the way to a hydrogen society.

July 27, 2015

About the author
Hiromi Jitsukata is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON
Size Length 4,890 mm
Width 1,815 mm
Height 1,535 mm
Vehicle weight 1,850–2,070 kg
Wheel base 2,780 mm
Tread Front 1,535 mm
Rear 1,545 mm
Min. height from ground 130 mm
Internal dimensions Length 2,040 mm
Width 1,465 mm
Height 1,185 mm
Seating capacity 4
Min. turning radius 5.7 m
Max. speed 175 km/h