After clicking on this article, there are probably two questions on your mind. The first is “Why is this car so ugly?” The second, more complicated question is “how do hydrogen fuel cell cars work?” Not to worry, we’ll explain everything soon enough.
As we pursue cars with less emissions and more efficiency, hydrogen fuel cells become more and more of an attractive option. As one of the top Japanese car companies, Toyota is always setting the next standard. So, let’s take a look at the Toyota’s 2016 Mirai and see how a Hydrogen fuel sedan functions in our modern world.
Explain it to Me Like I’m Five: Hydrogen Fuel Cells
This may the first time you’ve heard about hydrogen fuel cell propulsion, or it may be the first time you’ve heard the term in a while. Either way, we’ll explain how it works. If at any point you lose track of where we are, just chalk it up to a “if it works, it works” and more on. Less headaches that way.
Okay, let’s dive in. Fuel cells function by generating electricity as a result of a reaction between air and hydrogen. The hydrogen gas is stored in two tanks on the Mirai that hold 11 pounds of the gas at 10,000 psi (pounds-per-square-inch)
The gas is sent through a platinum-coated membrane that separates the atoms’ electrons and protons. The electrons produce an electric current which is used to power the car’s drive motor. Specifically in this case, the engine puts out 151 horsepower and 247 pounds-per-foot of torque.
While this is happening, the protons combine with oxygen on the opposite side of the membrane and exit the tailpipe in the form of water. The amount of water generated is about a half cup per mile.
A four-phase boost convertor provides 650 volts which are stored on a nickel-metal-hydride battery, same as the Prius. It is used to store energy regained from braking and to assist in acceleration.
That’s One Ugly Car!
The Mirai drives like any other battery-powered hybrid vehicle. Unfortunately it looks nothing like the others. If you take a look at the car, any photo or angle doesn’t show it in a flattering light. Apparently the design of the car is centered around the car’s functions.
Toyota’s managing officer Satoshi Ogiso explained the car’s design as “Oxygen in, water out.” He said that the design is meant to be a representation of the process that the car uses to transform air into water.
This is supposed to be conveyed via the flowing door sand the catamaran shape that represents water flowing through and under the body. Uh huh. All I’m seeing is a blocky car that doesn’t look anywhere near as sexy as that description sounds.
Ogiso went on to explain that the design is also part of their offbeat strategy to produce cars that look like nothing else on the road. It worked for the Prius after all:
“It’s no secret that when we launched Prius, we decided that making it look different from any other car on the road was a risk that needed to be taken. Prius styling was distinctive then and still is today. We think Mirai will be, as well. It the name of your czar means ‘the future,’ then it had better look futuristic,” he said.
Inside and Under the Hood
Peeking inside the car, we see a mono-spec interior which comes in black, blue-black, and gray-black. Those are your options. The two front seats are covered in pseudo leather and the dashboard features asymmetrical designs.
There are multiple screen displays, center-mounted gauges, and touch controls such as the sliding temperature control. The on-board screen also includes a hydrogen-station-location option that helps you find a place to refuel.
While the trunk seems small, it presents the single option that the car offers in the form of the “power takeoff.” This is a DC outlet that allows you to plug in an adapter to draw power from the fuel cell when the car isn’t moving.
It’s meant to provide power in an emergency situation. Toyota has said that it provides enough power to keep an average household running for roughly six days.
The max speed is 111 mph and the power comes from a nickel-metal-hydride battery that is similar to the Prius. The fuel-cell-stack is tucked under the front seats. It is a solid-polymer electrolyte fuel cell that was developed by Toyota themselves and is made from 370 cells.
We are in need of a new fuel source. Whether that comes in the form of hydrogen fuel cell cars like this one, or in another fashion, the fact remains the same. No more gas, we need something new.
All Images via Car and Driver