Toyota Releases Patents, What Role For Fuel Cell Technology?
Earlier this year, Toyota announced that they were releasing 5,680 patents related to fuel cell technology for royalty-free use.
Bob Carter, the company’s senior vice-president of automotive operations, explained the unusually open decision telling an audience that:
“The first generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical. Their launch will require a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy providers.”
Hydrogen fuel is about three times more efficient than gasoline, so there’s a strong incentive for scientists and politicians to investigate the possibility of using it as an alternative to fossil fuels.
There are of course some challenges. Hydrogen is not always clean to produce and pulling it from water is a costly process. Non-renewable sources of hydrogen such as oil and natural gas are much cheaper, using them puts a drain on finite stocks. There are also challenges in delivering storage solutions, hydrogen has a low energy density meaning that it needs to be stored and transported under high pressure, which is bulky and impractical. Similar to gasoline, it is highly flammable, but with no detectable odour.
However, gradually the benefits and opportunities associated with fuel cell technology are coming to the fore, making Toyota’s announcement all the more significant.
Plentiful in sources such as natural gas and water, unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen is a lower cost fuel in terms of extraction and polluting byproducts. A hydrogen fuel cell in a car produces zero emissions releasing only water vapour and heat. Furthermore, producing hydrogen fuel cells is also a clean process, provided that the production process employs renewable sources such as water and solar energy.
Toyota’s decision to open this technology up for development publicly is a reflection of an industry that is becoming increasingly aware of the finiteness of its normal energy sources. The world’s leading manufacturers are taking the lead in seeking economically prosperous alternatives and the next decade or so of development will be crucial in revealing whether hydrogen fuel cell technology is a part of that picture or not.