Opinion Columns & Blogs

Fuel-cell production will offer more eco-car options

JAPAN -- Will moves by Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. to market fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) herald the beginning of the spread of what is dubbed the “ultimate eco-friendly car”?

Toyota will start selling its FCV model this fiscal year, while Honda will introduce a model sometime next year.

FCVs are powered by electricity generated through the chemical reaction between hydrogen fuel and oxygen in the air and supplied to their engines. Like electric vehicles (EVs), FCVs do not emit carbon dioxide.

FCVs are capable of further reducing the burden on the environment, even when compared with EVs, which use electricity generated in thermal and other types of power plants.

With a full tank, the FCV can travel about 700 kilometers (about 435 miles), more than three times farther than EVs. FCVs also have a short refueling time – about three minutes – while EVs need at least 30 minutes to by fully recharged.

When production of state-of-the-art FCVs starts in earnest, the ripple effect will likely be felt by many industries. Both the government and private sector must cooperate to ensure FCVs are widely used.

However, a considerable number of hurdles remain.

The government and the relevant industry plan to establish hydrogen fuel stations for FCVs at 100 locations across the nation next fiscal year – a number that will be much more inconvenient for FCV users than drivers of gasoline-run vehicles, which can be refueled at about 40,000 gas stations in this country.

As things stand now, the cost of fuel for FCVs is about 50 percent more expensive than that of gasoline-driven vehicles.

It is essential to lower the construction cost of hydrogen fuel stations, utilize hydrogen from abroad, which is less expensive than domestically available hydrogen.

Hybrid vehicles (HVs) using gasoline dominate the eco-car market mainly because they are convenient to refuel, but the drawback lies in their dependence on a fossil fuel.

Although they have the disadvantage of traveling a short distance per charge, EVs have the advantage of easy recharging at home and the low cost of using electricity as fuel.

After the entry of FCVs into the market begins in earnest, it is important for automakers to compete vigorously in development and propagation of eco-cars to sharpen Japan’s industrial competitive edge.