Toyota begins production of its first hydrogen fuel cell car

The Mirai can refuel in five minutes and travel up to 300 miles on its two tanks

Toyota Mirai

Toyota this week began production of its first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV), the Mirai, which will have a starting price of $57,500.

The sedan, being produced at the Motomachi Plant in Toyota City, Japan, will act much like a gasoline powered car at the fuel pump; drivers can pull up, attach a pressurized hose, and fill it the car's carbon-fiber fuel tanks in about five minutes. It can travel up to 300 miles on a full tank.

Toyota Mirai Toyota

Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle

By comparison, an all-electric Tesla Model S using the company's so-called "Superchargers" requires at least 20 minutes to achieve a half-charged battery. A full charge will provide a range of up to 265 miles.

The Toyota Mirai is a four-door, mid-size sedan with performance that's comparable to traditional internal combustion engines, except its exhaust emits nothing but water vapor.

The Mirai can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 9.0 seconds, and Toyota also claims the car can go from 25 to 40 mph (to pass other vehicles) in about three seconds.

Toyota's proprietary fuel cell stack puts out 3.1 kilowatts of electricity per liter of fuel. The electric-powered engine is then capable of producing 153hp and 247 foot-pounds of torque.

the fuel cell stack Toyota

The Toyota Mirai's fuel cell stack, which converts hydrogen and oxygen into electrical power for the engine.

When the Mirai hits the market later this year, consumers can take advantage of a Toyota lease option, which charges $499 per month for 36 months, with $3649 due at lease signing. Customers can also take advantage of state and federal incentives of up to $13,000, which potentially brings the purchase price to under $45,000.

How the FCV works

Toyota's FCV is essentially an electric car, except instead of the large drive battery, Mirai's fuel cell stack combines hydrogen gas from tanks with oxygen to produce electricity that powers the electric motor.

Hydrogen fuel cell fuel pump Toyota

A hydrogen fuel pump

Hydrogen fuel is produced in several ways, but today the most common method comes as a byproduct of natural gas production. Natural gas, a hydrocarbon (hydrogen and carbon), is first released from underground pockets. Then it undergoes a process known as "steam reforming," where hydrogen molecules are separated from natural gas at high temperatures using steam.

Another process for creating hydrogen fuel is gasification, where livestock manure or composting crops are put under high temperatures, which triggers the separation hydrogen from the natural methane gas they contain.

Lastly, water can be used to produce hydrogen gas through electrolysis, which passes an electrical current through H2O to separate the hydrogen molecules from the oxygen molecules.

The resulting hydrogen fuel can be dispensed from fueling stations. the FCV has carbon fiber fuel tanks that can store the hydrogen gas under pressure. The FCVs front intake grills deliver outside air to what's known as a fuel cell stack.

The hydrogen fuel then travels from the fuel tanks to the fuel cell stack, where it undergoes a chemical reaction with the oxygen from the intake grills, creating electricity to power a motor, which propels the car with front-wheel drive.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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