mirai fuel cell car

Mirai Fuel Cell Car

Toyota Mirai: Fuel Cells or “Fool” Cells?

Toyota will be launching it’s new fuel-cell car, the Mirai, in California this month. The sales goals are modest to start; 200-300 will be shipped by the end of this year, with a goal of selling 3,000 in the U.S. by the end of 2017.


I am all for protecting the environment and mother earth, but I am not so sure this is the “right” technology to do it.


Will it really be greener?


What is A Fuel Cell Car?

In layman terms, a fuel cell car is a car that uses hydrogen rather than gasoline. The hydrogen is refined (most likely coming from natural gas extracted through a well or through hydraulic fracturing), then it is compressed and fed into a fuel cell to generate electricity. In a fuel cell vehicle, hydrogen and oxygen are pulled into the fuel cells and electricity is created through a chemical reaction. The range of the Mirai on one fill-up is roughly 310 miles, so not bad...


The only emission is water, so just looking at vehicle emissions, the hydrogen fuel cell car is certainly cleaner than a gas or diesel fueled vehicle. And, filling up with hydrogen is fast, just as fast as filling your tank with gasoline. That is, if you are near a hydrogen fuel station. California is hoping for 40 hydrogen fueling stations by the end of 2016 and 100 by 2020.  


So, Not So Convenient?


With only a potential of 40 fuel stations by the end of 2016, and snail-paced growth in numbers to 100 by 2020, this gives entirely new meaning to the term, planned outing. California is huge! Do you think AAA will carry hydrogen for emergencies? So, although fill-ups are fast, they are not so convenient.


I know that recharging an all-electric or electric-hybrid vehicle takes much longer, but gee whiz, it can happen while I am sleeping, or at work, or visiting with friends. let’s face it; I can plug in anywhere, so the chance of my getting stranded are even less than with a gasoline-driven car.

carbon footprint, mirai fuel cell car

Is It Really Greener?

Okay - so even though emissions-wise, the fuel cell car looks cleaner, if you look at the entire carbon footprint of the vehicle, there are some big questions. Yes, it generates it’s own power, rather than pulling it from the grid, but in actuality, although hydrogen fuel cell cars are are much cleaner than gasoline or diesel vehicles, they are nowhere near as clean as plug-in cars.  

This is because the process of creating the hydrogen is inefficient. Generally hydrogen is produced through steam methane reforming (from natural gas), which means a lot of CO2 emitted. And 40% of the hydrogen is lost in the process.

Further, the hydrogen needs to be stored either at very high pressures or cryogenically as a liquid – and all of that takes a lot of energy. On top of that, hydrogen is explosive, it pools upward in enclosed spaces and can burn with an invisible flame.


So, at 40% loss, when comparing apples to apples, or when looking at kilowatts of electricity (which is what both use to make the car “go”), for the same kilowatt-hour to power a vehicle, you are getting about a third of the miles for a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle as you are for a plug-in electric hybrid. Oops… hydrogen not so efficient after all.

Just Curious. What’s the Cost of a Mirai?


Toyota says the MSRP is $58,250, and it can be leased for about $500 a month. And Toyota, as part of the sales launch, is kicking in 3 years or $15,000 worth of hydrogen. And the state of California is spending about $20 million a year to add the hydrogen fuel stations. The Mirai has already been released in Japan where it has been a huge success. Did I mention that it is pretty ugly. I know this is purely subjective on my part, but it seats 4 maximum, and pretty mundane to look at.


Why Is Toyota Doing This?


I am sure there have been dozens of articles written about this topic alone. Toyota executives have been quoted as saying that pure electric vehicles are suitable for short-distances but are not the answer to long distance travel because of the limited range of the battery packs and inefficient use of the power grid.


Fuel Cell of “Fool” Cell


Elon Musk is not a fan. Of course, whatever he says must be taken with a grain of salt. He is, afterall, a competitor! Here is what he says:


“Manufacturers do it [FCEVs] because they’re under pressure to show they’re doing something ‘constructive’ about sustainability. They feel it’s better to be working on a solution a generation away rather than something just around the corner.”


“Hydrogen is always labeled the fuel of the future – and always will be.”


I am all for options in the marketplace. So, I like that we have choices. I am just not sure this is the right choice right now for most of the commuters in California.


So, would you buy one? I’d like to know. Please leave comments.


Tags: mirai fuel cell car, Future Technology, Car News, New Car Features, Cost Savings, Efficiency, Hydrogen