Toyota unveils new hydrogen cartridge that could revolutionise transport

Toyota's hydrogen cartridge prototype
There have long been concerns over the use of hydrogen as fuel. Photo credit: Getty Images

Toyota has unveiled a working prototype of a hydrogen cartridge that could help revolutionise clean energy use, especially for transport.

The car company, alongside subsidiary Woven Planet, will now conduct Proof of Concept trials in various places including Woven City, a human-centred smart city of the future currently being constructed in Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan.

Hydrogen has long been considered one of the greenest ways of fuelling transport in place of combustion engines - however there are significant safety concerns that must be addressed.

According to the International Consortium for Fire, Safety, Health and the Environment, the two prime dangers from fuel cell and hydrogen-powered vehicles are the danger of electrical shock and the flammability of the fuel.

"A notable difference between current and new-technology vehicles is that the voltage needed to power the electric motors is much higher in new vehicles than can be accommodated by the current standard voltage of a 14V system," it said.

"The 42V system was chosen as an industry standard in part for safety reasons:  anything greater than 50 volts can stop a human heart. On the other hand, some fuel cell vehicle motors run on voltages exceeding 350V.

"With such high currents, the danger of electric shock is great."

There's also a risk that mixing of hydrogen and electricity could lead to disaster thanks to the flammable nature of the gas.

Hydrogen for powering vehicles can come via liquid hydrogen or by reforming hydrogen sources like alcohols, methane and propane, which can create flammable gas in the vicinity. One spark could then be deadly.

"Each has its own set of flammability issues," the consortium said.

"Both the electrical current and the flammability concern of the fuel translate into the design needs for the vehicle itself as well as the requirements for structures intended for the storage, refuelling and repair of these vehicles."

A properly designed hydrogen cartridge could potentially avoid these issues. One of the benefits of using hydrogen itself instead of reformed hydrogen is carbon neutrality as no carbon dioxide is emitted when burned.

"Furthermore, when hydrogen is produced using renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass, CO2 emissions are minimised during the production process as well," Toyota said.

"Hydrogen can be used to generate electricity in fuel cell systems and can also be used as a combustion fuel."

The trials in Woven City will help us learn how to best transform hydrogen into a familiar, well-used, and well-loved form of energy, the company said.

"The ultimate goal of this project is to realise a carbon-neutral society where everyone can access clean energy, first in Japan and then throughout the world," Toyota concluded.

The benefits of using hydrogen cartridges, according to Toyota:

  • Portable, affordable, and convenient energy that makes it possible to bring hydrogen to where people live, work, and play without the use of pipes
  • Swappable for easy replacement and quick recharging
  • Volume flexibility allows for a broad variety of daily use applications
  • Small-scale infrastructure can meet energy needs in remote and non-electrified areas and be swiftly dispatched in the case of a disaster.