As they have for the past 10 years, automakers and engineers met during SAE’s annual World Congress to discuss fuel cell technology but this was the first year three participating carmakers had vehicles in production.
The first, Hyundai Tucson FCV (pictured above) hit U.S. roads last summer. Toyota’s Mirai is already on sale in Japan, with U.S. deliveries scheduled for October. And Honda is preparing a follow-up to its FCEV sedan, the FCX Clarity.
Jesse Schneider, who manages fuel cell and electric vehicles for BMW, was the chairman for SAE’s fuel cell panel.
“In the past few years eight automakers made announcements about fuel cell electric vehicle development, many of them in conjunction with partnerships: BMW-Toyota, GM-Honda, Hyundai and Daimler-Ford-Nissan,” said Schneider.
“In order to prepare for the FCEV market, there have been three main areas where hydrogen infrastructure has started to roll out: Europe (Germany, France, U.K. and Scandinavia), the U.S. (mainly in California) and in Japan.
“These three geographical areas will each have approximately 50 stations by 2016 and plans to expand this cumulatively to a multiple hundreds by 2020 and thousands in the decade thereafter.”
During the event, experts with auto manufacturers and suppliers presented papers on their advances with fuel cells.
Toyota was among the presenters, with information on two new components developed specifically for the Mirai: a fuel cell separator and a stack manifold. The first helps “improve the electric power generation performance,” said presenter Nobuhiko Nakagaki with Toyota Boshoku Corp.
The stack manifold “is a component that integrates end plate and pipes,” Nakagaki explained. “By integrating the pipes, it was possible to significantly reduce the component dimensions.”
A separate team with Toyota talked about the Mirai’s new hydrogen storage tanks, which offer better performance with less cost, weight, bulk than the tanks previously used.
“The four 70 megapascal [10,152 psi] tanks used on the 2008 Toyota FCHV-adv were reduced to two new larger diameter tanks. The laminated structure of the tanks was optimized to reduce weight, and a high-strength low-cost carbon fiber material was newly developed and adopted.
“These innovations helped to improve the weight of the whole storage system by approximately 15 percent in comparison with Toyota FCHV-adv, while reducing the number of component parts by half and substantially reducing cost.
“The time required to fuel the FCV was greatly reduced by chilling the filling gas temperature at the hydrogen filling station to minus 40 degrees Celcius [minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit].
“In the localized fire test for hydrogen tanks … the tanks satisfied the drop and fire resistance requirements without changes to the external tank volume by incorporating fire-resistant material into the impact energy absorbing tank protector.”
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Engineers with Hyundai were also on hand, and presented different methods to recover performance from a degraded fuel cell. These recovery procedures “partially rehabilitate the performance of fuel cell stack by 20 to 30 percent. In addition, it is expected that the durability of fuel cell can be improved ultimately with an application of recovery process,” wrote Hyundai’s team.
Creating a standardized method for fueling FCEVs and other challenges to the commercialization and widespread acceptance of the hydrogen-powered vehicles was also discussed.