Toyota’s unlikely tool for lifting hydrogen demand

Fuel cell industrial vehicles could help build infrastructure

Fuel cell industrial vehicles could help build infrastructure

Toyota hopes the deployment of fuel cell forklifts and other industrial vehicles will have knock-on effects for its efforts to roll out more fuel cell passenger vehicles such as the Mirai sedan.

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles confront the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. There is low demand for the cars because there are so few hydrogen fueling stations. Yet there is low demand for fueling stations because there are so few cars.

Now Toyota Motor Corp. is turning to an unlikely four-wheeler to jump-start demand for the fuel. The vehicle: a forklift.

This year, Toyota and a consortium of other companies will begin a pilot project that harnesses wind power to generate hydrogen for a small fleet of fuel cell forklifts that will shuttle vegetables, beer and other goods around a wholesale market and other businesses on the Tokyo Bay waterfront.

The goals are twofold:

1. To create and test a low-carbon supply chain for generating and distributing hydrogen.

2. To spur a fueling infrastructure by expanding the number of vehicles needing one.

The results are expected to have knock-on effects for Toyota’s efforts to roll out more fuel cell passenger vehicles such as the Mirai sedan that was launched here in December 2014.

By deploying fleets of fuel cell forklifts and other industrial vehicles, such as those that tow planes at airports, Toyota aims simultaneously to drive down costs of making pricey fuel cell powertrain components and to lift demand for fueling stations.

Shigeki Tomoyama, senior managing officer in charge of Toyota’s Business Development Group, projected there could be as many as 100,000 of those fuel cell-powered industrial vehicles in use by 2030.

“Economies of scale can be achieved this way,” he said at an event here launching the initial fleet of 12 fuel cell forklifts. “Fuel cell [passenger] vehicles alone can’t stimulate the market. That’s why we need to expand to industrial use.”

“Fuel cell [passenger] vehicles alone can’t stimulate the market. That’s why we need to expand to industrial use.”Shigeki Tomoyama

Toyota’s Business Development Group

Fuel cell forklifts have a couple of advantages over the battery-powered ones commonly used in factories and warehouses.

They can be refueled in three minutes, compared with a recharging time of six to eight hours for a lead-acid battery, and they don’t require the frequent swapping of spare batteries.

It also helps that Toyota Group company Toyota Industries Corp. is the world’s biggest manufacturer of forklifts.

Toyota will be able to generate additional volume for the pricey components by using the Marai’s stack cells in the forklifts.

The green factor is another bonus because the consortium is using windmills to generate electricity, which is then used to electrolyze water and produce the hydrogen.

The group, which includes the cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki as well as Toshiba Corp. and Iwatani Corp., says that project can slash supply chain carbon dioxide emissions by at least 80 percent compared with a fleet of forklifts running on gasoline or conventionally generated grid electricity.

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