[YesAuto Electric Vehicle Technology] Fuel cell technology is not a new technology. Its basic principles were discovered by scientists at the end of the 19th century, and it was applied to vehicles in the late 1960s. At that time, the performance and manufacturing cost of fuel cell vehicles could not be compared with cars equipped with gasoline engines at that time. With the continuous improvement of fuel cell technology and the continuous investment of automobile manufacturers in the research and development of fuel cell vehicles, finally two fuel cell models were mass-produced and launched on the market in 2014. The two models are Hyundai Tucson FCV and Toyota Mirai. The mass production of the above two models has truly brought people into a new era of fuel cell vehicles. This article will introduce you to the development history and status quo of fuel cell vehicles. I hope you can have a deeper understanding of this new thing about fuel cell vehicles.

● 2014 is the first year of mass production fuel cell vehicles

On June 10, 2014, the mass-produced Hyundai Tucson FCV officially landed in the California market. The model is rented out at a monthly rent of US$499 (about RMB 3098). The car was launched in the UK in May this year, priced at 53,105 pounds, minus 15,000 pounds of government subsidies, users only need to spend 38,105 pounds (about 371,000 yuan) to buy a Hyundai Tucson FCV fuel cell vehicle .

Toyota Mirai went on sale on December 15, 2014, intending to replicate the success of the Toyota Prius. “Mirai” means “future” in Japanese. What Toyota places on Mirai models is its vision for the future of new energy vehicles. Toyota, which has achieved certain results in the hybrid vehicle market, intends to use Mirai models to develop a new blue ocean of fuel cell vehicles.

Compared with Hyundai Tucson FCV, Toyota Mirai has certain advantages in power performance and cruising range. The output power of the power system of the two cars has reached or even surpassed the level of the 1.8-liter naturally aspirated gasoline engine, plus the cruising range of more than 400 kilometers, so that the two cars have better practicality.

● The structure of mass-produced fuel cell vehicles

Let's take Toyota Mirai as an example to briefly introduce the structure of fuel cell vehicles. Toyota Mirai is fueled by hydrogen. In a fuel cell, hydrogen reacts chemically with oxygen under the action of a catalyst to produce electricity. The hydrogen after “burning” turns into water, and the reaction process is theoretically pollution-free. Toyota Mirai’s hydrogen fuel is stored in a high-pressure hydrogen storage tank, which is made of carbon fiber and is located in the middle and the rear of the chassis. The total volume is 122.4 liters. It takes about 3 minutes to fill with hydrogen.

The fuel cell is located under the front seat. The electrical energy generated by the fuel cell directly drives an electric motor located in the engine compartment. The electric energy obtained by the electric motor's energy recovery will be stored in the power battery located at the rear of the vehicle through the power control unit.

The following video shows the installation of the most critical chassis and battery system during the Toyota Mirai assembly process. It is recommended for everyone to watch it.

The installation process of Toyota Mirai chassis and battery system

To see more videos about Toyota Mirai's manufacturing process, please click on the following hyperlinks to view: assembly line overview and parts selection, vehicle accessories process display, final assembly process display, quality control and quality inspection display.

● A magic device that can generate electricity by supplying hydrogen and oxygen

As long as the fuel cell is continuously supplied with hydrogen and oxygen, the energy source will continuously obtain electricity, and the product is theoretically completely pollution-free water. From the Toyota Mirai, we seem to be able to glimpse the future environmental protection society of “only blue sky, no smog”. What you may not know is that the basic principles of fuel cell technology were discovered at the end of the 19th century.

The device ① in the figure above is a gas electrode battery, and the device ② is a water electrolysis device. The experimental device is to verify that the gas electrode battery produces electricity. The specific chemical reaction equations that occur on the cathode (“-” in the figure) and anode (“+” in the figure) are shown in the figure above. The working principle of the gas electrode battery laid the theoretical foundation for the birth of the fuel cell.

Most of the latest fuel cell vehicles now use proton exchange membrane fuel cells (Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell, abbreviated as “PEMFC”). The schematic diagram of the structure can be seen in the figure above. In the figure, the anode is the place where the hydrogen fuel is oxidized, and the cathode is the place where the oxidant is reduced. Both electrodes contain a catalyst that accelerates the electrochemical reaction of the electrode. The proton exchange membrane acts as an electrolyte to transfer hydrogen ions to the cathode. Although the proton exchange membrane fuel cell technology appeared more than a hundred years later than the gas electrode cell of William Robert Grove, its inherent chemical reaction principle is the same.

I think most consumers will not want to disassemble the fuel cell of their fuel cell vehicle to see how the interior works. For ordinary consumers, we only need to know that the fuel required for the fuel cell operation of a fuel cell vehicle is hydrogen and oxygen, and the product after power generation is pollution-free water.

● Practical application of fuel cell technology

In the 1950s, GE (General Electric) funded the research of PEMFC proton exchange membrane fuel cells. In the 1960s, the “Apollo Moon Landing Program” of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) used fuel cells to provide power and drinking water for spacecraft. It can be seen that at that time, fuel cells were already a proven mature technology.

The initial civil fuel cell power generation efficiency, output power, service life, volume and other performance parameters are far inferior to the internal combustion engine at that time, and it is reasonable that there is no mass-produced fuel cell vehicle.

It is precisely because fuel cells are increasingly used in the civilian field that fuel cell manufacturers see the market prospects and are willing to invest resources in development, gradually improving the efficiency of fuel cells and reducing manufacturing costs. The development wave of fuel cell technology has also spawned world-renowned fuel cell suppliers such as PLUG, Ballard, and FuelCell.

● The arrival of the fuel cell vehicle boom

In the early 1990s, proton exchange membrane fuel cells made great progress in practical applications. Proton exchange membrane fuel cells using platinum as a catalyst have high power generation efficiency and high specific output power (up to 0.5-1.5 watts/cm². The larger the value, the smaller the area of the proton exchange membrane used to generate a certain amount of power. The smaller the size of the battery), long life, low noise, room temperature start and many other advantages, pave the way for the application of this technology to cars.

Since then, fuel cell vehicle products used by automakers such as Toyota, Honda, and General Motors to demonstrate their technological capabilities have sprung up. American Time magazine listed fuel cell vehicles as the top ten high-tech in the 21st century in 1995. Developed countries such as Japan and Germany have begun to invest heavily in the development of fuel cell technology. This completely zero-emission fuel cell technology is an industrial blue ocean with great potential for major automobile manufacturers.

For the independent research and development of fuel cells, Toyota started earlier than Daimler-Benz. Toyota began research on fuel cells in 1992, and this research project was launched almost simultaneously with the Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle project.

After more than six years of mass production, the Toyota Mirai was officially launched in Japan on December 15, 2014. In order to boost the Japanese economy, the current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strongly supports fuel cell vehicles and fuel cell industries, and has increased subsidies for these industries.

Ten years ago, the cost of a fuel cell vehicle was close to 120 million yen (equivalent to about 6.2 million yuan), while the current Toyota Mirai only costs 7.236 million yen (Japanese local price), excluding 2.253 million yen. With government subsidies and tax reductions, users only need to pay 4.983 million yen (approximately RMB 258,000) to drive a completely zero-emission Toyota Mirai home.

After Toyota opened its fuel cell patents, it was not just companies that benefited from using the patents for free, but Toyota also benefited from it. By opening patents, Toyota will be able to bring companies interested in the field of fuel cell vehicles into its own camp, strengthen its power, and jointly expand the market. Second, when other companies use Toyota's patents to manufacture their own fuel cell vehicles, and one day Toyota's technology is upgraded but the technology is not open, those companies that originally used free patents can only upgrade themselves by purchasing patents from Toyota. The product. Third, by opening up patents, more companies are allowed to develop fuel cell vehicle products along the path of Toyota's fuel cell technology, which will isolate companies that adopt other technology routes and eventually lose their competitiveness.

In addition to the several models mentioned above, most of the fuel cell vehicle products of other manufacturers are in the experimental stage, and there is no news of mass production.

● The advantages of fuel cell vehicles have not yet been fully realized

Fuel cell vehicles have zero emissions and no pollution, which can be said to be the ultimate form of environmentally friendly vehicles. However, the large-scale environmentally friendly preparation technology of its fuel (hydrogen) is not very mature at this stage. The traditional hydrogen production process obtains hydrogen by electrolyzing water. If the electricity used for electrolysis of water comes from burning coal to generate electricity, there will be carbon emissions, and fuel cell vehicles will lose their significance.

In addition, infrastructure construction is also an obstacle that restricts the development of fuel cell vehicles. No one will buy a car that has no place to refuel. Therefore, the two aspects of infrastructure construction and hydrogen production technology have a vital impact on the popularization of fuel cell vehicles.

Compared with the mature hybrid vehicles on the market today, the use environment of fuel cell vehicles is not mature, and its advantages have not yet been fully reflected. At this stage, hybrid vehicles and pure electric vehicles will still be the mainstream of the market. The advantages and disadvantages of fuel cell vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and pure electric vehicles can be seen in the following figure:

In China, the imperfect facilities of charging piles and hydrogen refueling stations have greatly restricted the development of pure electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles in China. As Japan, which strongly advocates building a hydrogen energy society, actively develops and utilizes renewable resources hydrogen production technology and increases the infrastructure construction of hydrogen refueling stations has become an important direction for stimulating the Japanese economy and promoting industrial upgrading.

● The pattern of strong alliance

Facing the mass production wave of fuel cell vehicles set off by Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell vehicles, how can major manufacturers sit idly by and seek partners for joint development to ensure that they are not too far behind in the field of fuel cell vehicle technology .

This combination of strong forces and competition between teams will also accelerate the mass production and popularization of fuel cell vehicles. In fact, there are far more vehicle manufacturers researching fuel cell vehicles than the ones mentioned above, but all those with a bit of strength are involved in the field of fuel cells. The difference is that not all manufacturers can promote R&D results to mass-produced products.

● Fuel cell vehicles are growing amidst doubts

The development of things always advances in waves and spirals. Compared with the traditional cars that use internal combustion engines, the fuel cell vehicle is a novel thing. It subverts the traditional power source of the car. Since it came into this world, it has been questioned by all walks of life.

Senior executives of auto companies such as Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk have all questioned the economic feasibility and environmental safety of Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicles. They believe that Toyota is developing well in the hybrid/plug-in hybrid vehicle market, and investing too much resources in a technology whose economic feasibility has not been verified will weaken its core competitiveness.

The current Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda faces doubts and disagrees. He believes that hybrid/plug-in hybrid vehicles and fuel cell vehicles have room for common development. Seventeen years ago, the industry raised many questions about the Toyota Prius (listed in December 1997). But 17 years later, the Prius has sold 7 million units (as of June 2014), which is the most sold single model and the most sold environmentally friendly model in the car's 100-year history. If Toyota Prius can succeed, Toyota Mirai has a chance of success!

Toyota's persistence and perseverance coupled with the strong support of the current Japanese government for fuel cell vehicles and related industries have paved the way for the popularization of fuel cell vehicles in Japan. Japan may become one of the first countries in the world to popularize fuel cell vehicles.

● Fuel cell vehicles in China

At the end of the last century, Shanghai Shenli Technology Co. and Dalian Xinyuan Power Co., Ltd. undertook the development of the “Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell Power System” of the national “Ninth Five-Year Plan” key 863 science and technology research plan, and obtained a number of patented technologies. Supporting fuel cell power system for fuel cell vehicles developed by Tsinghua University.

From the data point of view, my country's fuel cell vehicle research and development has actually been carried out relatively early. Some car companies have cooperated with universities to produce some display vehicles, including cars and buses, but eventually formed mass-produced models and not much. Most of the show cars are only used as guest shuttle buses for large conferences, and their popularity is quite low. This is not unrelated to domestic infrastructure and policy orientation.

Summary: Amidst the disturbances in the new energy vehicle industry, Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Tucson FCV have achieved mass production, bringing people into a new era of fuel cell vehicles. With the rapid breakthrough of hydrogen fuel production technology and the decline in the manufacturing cost of fuel cell vehicles, the fuel cell vehicle revolution may succeed in one fell swoop, and the traditional automotive industry is ushering in an era of renewal and reshuffle. Otherwise, fuel cell vehicles will continue to be a minority in the automotive industry, replaced by newer technologies, and become orphans of the times. In any case, as a visionary, courageous, and confident entrepreneur, now that he sees the light in the field of fuel cell vehicles, how can he give up his desperate opportunity? Perhaps the success of fuel cell vehicles is just around the corner. (Photo/Chang Qinglin, Auto Home)