Battery or fuel cell

The two largest vehicle manufacturers in the world are struggling for the trend-setting drive technology for tomorrow

When it comes to the question of the future of the car and its drive system, technical and more emotional lines of argument sometimes get tangled up. Faith is a key word here. German manufacturers believe that they are providing the right answer with battery technology. They believe that when streets and parking lots are loaded with charging stations of considerable capacity, customers will also believe that they are on the right track with a large battery in their car. At the IAA, VW boss Herbert Diess recently stiffened on the steep thesis that he was very certain that the hydrogen car would not be a relevant option for driving cars in the next ten years. Daimler CEO Olaf Källenius also recently made a clear commitment to battery drives for CO2-free mobility. The battery believers brush aside references to high weight, manageable ranges and long downtimes or waiting times during or before charging by pointing out future developments. And it is well known that faith is said to be able to move mountains. 

In the case of Volkswagen and the battery, this must be due to the lack of alternatives. VW is throwing its entire and considerable sales and marketing power into the scales in order to make the battery car the measure of new, clean mobility. 

This is somewhat reminiscent of the time after the turn of the millennium, when the German manufacturers in the USA, at that time still the largest car market in the world, wanted to counter the advance of Japanese hybrid technology with a marketing offensive called "Clean Diesel". The result is well known.

Use profile as a criterion for the energy source

On current drive from the fuel cell set currently with Toyota and Hyundai two not to be underestimated global player. Honda also joins them, where also the fuel cell as a vehicle drive made ready for production and was promoted more intensively than the battery, to which the Asiatic rather than electricity supplier for small cars and urban route profiles believe and prepare appropriate vehicles.

Toyota is convinced that the fuel cell, which generates electricity from hydrogen in a climate-neutral way, is about to triumph, which will be faster and steeper than was the case with hybrid drives. With this combined technology of fuel and electricity, which was largely developed and perfected by Toyota, 14,5 million vehicles have been brought into circulation in 90 countries worldwide to date.

Next Mirai generation in the starting blocks

Ferry MM Franz, Toyota-Europe representative in Berlin, is therefore now on a counter-thesis to the VW position firmly. He referred to a survey of 105.000 people in 12 countries, which are asked every year which drive technology will prevail. Last year, for the first time, more respondents were in the fuel cell than in the battery car.  

At the latest in the year 2025 Toyota will earn money with its fuel cell cars and the customer can buy such vehicles for a price that will no longer be above that of a mid-size hybrid model, Franz explained in the zero-emission tour in the Rhine-Main area. Just as today a hybrid Toyota costs no more than the diesel engine, which he has - at least at Toyota - already replaced.

The Mirai, the first production car of the Japanese with fuel cell drive, is facing the replacement. In a few weeks, the successor will be presented at the Tokyo Motor Show, of which Franz already revealed that he will deliver more power plus a better package with more space and also offered significantly cheaper. This is also because in production the band replaces the hand. The first good 10.000 Mirai were created purely by hand. For the successor from 2020 classic volume production on tape with corresponding cost effects is provided.

Toyota reveals its fuel cell know-how

In order to push the fuel cell, which is the better, because lighter alternative to the battery also and especially for the entire range of commercial vehicles from bus to construction site vehicle, Toyota goes unconventional ways. "In the meantime, Toyota will make all the know-how we have available in the field available for use by other manufacturers," explains Franz. There is already cooperation with BMW.

Germany has the densest hydrogen fueling network in Europe

Even if Germany lags far behind Japan and California in terms of registered vehicles with fuel cells, where 35 and 59 percent of the first Mirai generation were registered, the German filling station network for hydrogen is already the densest in Europe. According to Toyota calculations, customers in metropolitan areas have to put up with ten minutes detour to reach a hydrogen tank system. By 2023, the network is expected to grow from just under 100 systems to 1000 filling stations. It takes about 3 minutes to refuel a Mirai to ensure a range of up to 500 kilometers. In theory, six million people in Germany could already use a fuel cell vehicle today, explains Franz. In terms of reliability and stability, the Mirai, some of which are used as commercial shuttle vehicles, have met all expectations. This is also known from the Prius, with which the hybrid began.

Electricity costs set screw for the hydrogen costs

There is also a lot going on on the generation side for hydrogen (chemical H2). The zero-emission tour led to the Energiepark Mainz, where, with the significant participation of Linde, Siemens and the Mainz public utility company, hydrogen is generated using the electricity from four wind turbines next to the plant and water. 

30 percent of the energy used is still lost, especially in the form of heat, but the test facility has proved in their four-year operation, according to the Linde engineer Martin Neuberger, who is responsible for them, that there is still considerable potential here and there Plant how the fuel cell in the car today would be smaller, more efficient and significantly cheaper to build. For example, if the process heat were fed into a district heating network. The adjusting screw for everything is the electricity price. If the price is low, because the supply is large, the conversion pays off today. It would be interesting, if you can organize the H2 production decentralized and bring close to the customers, reports Neuberger. This is envisaged in Mainz: the public transport companies have ordered fuel cell buses, which will soon be able to procure clean local transport with "home-made" hydrogen.

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