Huge bet on hydrogen economy
In January 2017, it was announced that Toyota Motor Corporation and four of its biggest automotive competitors are joining oil and gas giants including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA with plans to invest a combined 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion) in hydrogen-related products within five years.
Thirteen energy, transport and industrial companies will form a hydrogen council consulting with policy makers and highlighting its user benefits as the world switches from dirtier energy sources, according to a joint statement issued from Davos, Switzerland.
"The world of energy is transforming very, very fast," Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden said at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "Hydrogen has massive potential."
Fuel cell vehicles have been key to Toyota's plan to eliminate at least 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions from its vehicles by 2050 though that bet was recently hedged by the CEO taking personal charge of a new crash program to catch up in battery electric vehicles. This contrasts with Toyota earlier selling its stake in Tesla. Following achievement of market leadership in hybrid cars by a big margin, Toyota has argued that it is more likely to convince consumers to use gasoline-electric hybrids and fuel cell vehicles in future rather than battery-electric vehicles BEVs, which used to have less driving range. They still take longer to recharge than filling up with gasoline or hydrogen. However, there has been public indifference to fuel cell cars as they remain very challenging to refill given there are so few hydrogen charging stations and they and the vehicles are expensive. However, there is a bigger picture here.
"In addition to transportation, hydrogen has the potential to support our transition to a low-carbon society across multiple industries and the entire value chain," Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota's chairman and a council co-chair, declared in the statement that reflected the fact that static fuel cells have already carved a niche as "combined heat and power" in buildings. Hydrogen potential includes much more than vehicles. A hydrogen fuel cell emits about one kilowatt of heat for every kilowatt of electricity and in vehicles that heat often goes to waste. Not so for buildings.
BMW AG, Daimler AG, Honda Motor Co., and Hyundai Motor Co. will each join Toyota on the council. The other members are gas companies Air Liquide SA and Linde AG, miner Anglo American Plc, electric utility Engie SA, rail company Alstom SA and motorcycle and heavy equipment manufacturer Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.
Dr Peter Harrop Chairman of analysts IDTechEx notes, "Around 0.1% of new forklifts are being fitted with fuel cells to overcome the hassle of lead-acid batteries, though that industry struggles to justify more. Fuel cells are being designed into many niche vehicles though. This announcement involves many companies that get excluded from the vehicle value chain if pure electric on-road battery vehicles succeed. However, we think they will. We agree with the majority in the vehicle industry that battery vehicles are the end game and we even believe that many will be energy independent. The window of opportunity for fuel cell powertrains in mass vehicle markets is closing, however much is spent on them." See the IDTechEx reports, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles 2017-2027: Land, Water, Air, Electric Vehicles Change the World 2017-2037 and Energy independent Electric Vehicles Land, Water, Air 2017-2027.
Top image: Learnhive