The story starts with Hydrogen:
We're starting to see more automakers turn their attention to hydrogen-powered cars. Honda announced it would be selling its hydrogen-powered sedan, the Honda Clarity, in California by the end of 2016. Lexus showed off its hydrogen-powered LF-LC concept car at the Detroit Auto Show, and Audi showed off its hydrogen-powered concept car the h-tron quattro. And then there's Toyota, which has been working on hydrogen-powered cars for years and has sold Toyota Mirai.
All these developments beg the question: are hydrogen-powered cars better that traditional battery-powered vehicles?
Hydrogen fuel cell cars could help solve the global warming crisis, but nobody wants to buy them.
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Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of the Toyota Mirai, Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell car, calls it a “chicken or the egg” problem: no one wants to purchase hydrogen cars because there are no hydrogen fuel stations, and nobody wants to build hydrogen fuel stations because there are no hydrogen cars.
So What’s The Plot Twist?
Before you read this, we want you to know there is a yuck factor, so if you are squeamish, consider yourself warned.
Toyota thinks it may have found a solution turning to one of the dirtiest places there is: the toilet. In Fukuoka, Japan, the automaker is converting human waste into hydrogen to fuel the Mirai. The process is pretty simple. At a wastewater treatment plant, like the Fukuoka City Central Water Processing Plant, sewage is separated into liquid and solid waste. Microorganisms are added to the mix which break down the solid waste, creating biogas, about 60% methane and 40% carbon dioxide. Then, workers filter out the CO₂ and add water vapor, which creates hydrogen and more CO₂. They extract the CO₂ again, and voila: pure hydrogen.
Using wastewater is arguably the greenest way to make hydrogen, especially for big cities, where there are a lot of people who produce a lot of sewage, and most of that sewage, after it’s been treated, is discarded. In the case of sewage sludge, it’s usually dumped in landfills, and in the case of biogas it’s most often burnt. There’s no downside to using it to produce hydrogen instead. Water has to be treated, and biogas is a natural byproduct.
Biogas, which is renewable, is also a better source of hydrogen than natural gas, which is where we get most of our hydrogen today. Compared to other zero-emissions vehicles, like electric battery cars, hydrogen vehicles also stand the best chance of convincing consumers to give up the gasoline cars they’re used to. But fuel cell cars do offer a better alternative in ease of use, fast refueling time, longer range and a bigger car.
Biogas could help solve hydrogen’s “the chicken or the egg” problem. Where there’s poop there’s people, or should I say, where there are people, there is poop; which is what makes a plant like the one in Fukuoka so attractive. If every town with a sewage treatment plant also had a hydrogen production facility, supplying hydrogen to far-flung locales would become easy.
For now, though, it’s still a waiting game: waiting on more stations to be built, and waiting for consumer demand for zero-emissions vehicles to take off. But Toyota is hoping that its toilet-to-tank scheme might reduce those wait times.
What are your thoughts? Is this far-fetched?
To read more about future technologies in the works, click here.
Tags; hydrogen fuel cell cars, zero emission vehicles, green vehicles, battery powered cars, wastewater