Toyota Motor Corporation, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. and Honda Motor Co., Ltd. have shared details regarding a new joint support project for the development of hydrogen station infrastructure in Japan. In addition to partially covering the operating costs of hydrogen stations, the three automakers have also agreed to help infrastructure companies deliver the best possible customer service and create a convenient, hassle-free refueling network for owners of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).
The joint project (conducted alongside the Japanese government's support for hydrogen stations) will partially cover hydrogen station operating expenses incurred by infrastructure companies, and was first announced on February 12. Project partners will also jointly raise awareness regarding these support measures, in order to encourage new companies to enter the hydrogen supply business. Financial assistance will be provided through the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology* (HySUT), which is setting up a project to stimulate demand for FCVs.
For FCVs to gain popularity, creating attractive products is only half of the equation. Hydrogen station infrastructure must also be developed to ensure ease-of-use for customers; however, infrastructure companies face difficulties constructing and operating hydrogen stations. FCVs are a new entry into the market, and hydrogen station revenues are expected to remain low due to the limited number of cars currently on the road.
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So, to help popularize FCVs by creating a reliable hydrogen-fueling environment and ensuring peace of mind for FCV owners, the three automakers will work with infrastructure companies to:
- Use information such as customer needs and hydrogen station operating rates to improve customer service levels
- Raise public awareness about FCVs and hydrogen
- Improve the convenience of hydrogen stations by extending their hours/days of operation, increasing accessibility, and enhancing and providing operational information
In June 2014, the Japanese government unveiled its Strategic Road Map for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells, which involves subsidizing the construction of hydrogen stations and reviewing regulations. Then in February, the Japanese government decided to partially subsidize hydrogen station operational expenses in order to help stimulate new demand for FCVs.
On the vehicle side, Toyota launched the Mirai FCV in late 2014, while Honda has announced its plan to bring an FCV to market before April 2016 and Nissan is also planning to market an FCV as early as 2017.
Meanwhile, Toyota has been leading the charge on development of hydrogen fueling infrastructure Stateside, or at least in California — in May 2014, the automaker partnered with FirstElement Fuel Inc. to support the long-term operation and maintenance expenses of new hydrogen refueling stations across the State, which in April joined H2 USA, a public-private partnership led by the U.S. Department of Energy dedicated to accelerating the commercialization of clean transportation solutions, primarily FCVs, and a fueling infrastructure that will make them more accessible and affordable.
Toyota is also attempting to spur the FCV market by opening up its patents — the company announced in January that it is allowing royalty-free use of approximately 5,680 hydrogen fuel cell-related patents held globally, including critical technologies developed for the Mirai, through the end of 2020. The list includes around 1,970 patents related to fuel cell stacks, 290 associated with high-pressure hydrogen tanks, 3,350 related to fuel cell system software control and 70 patents related to hydrogen production and supply.
*Established in July 2009 based on the Act on Research and Development Partnership concerning Mining and Manufacturing Technology, with the goal of building hydrogen supply infrastructure and developing a business environment conducive to widespread use of FCVs by 2015. There are currently 19 member companies/organizations, including energy infrastructure companies and automakers.