Published on August 12th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


Japan Could Give Away Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

August 12th, 2014 by  


Originally posted on GAS2

Japanese automakers are betting big on hydrogen fuel vehicles, and they’ve convinced government officials to stack the deck in their favor. While the Japanese government has already signed on to offer at least $20,000 in incentives to cover the cost of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, some officials are reportedly calling for free hydrogen cars and fuel to early adopters.

Automotive News reports that in addition to the $20,000 from the Tokyo-based national government, Toyota’s home district of Aichi will offer an additional $10,000, bringing the cost of the Toyota FCV/Mirai down from $70,000 to just $40,000. As though that’s not enough, the Japanese government also plans to invest in some 100 hydrogen fueling stations to give drivers a place to fill up.

That’s pretty generous, but apparently there’s even a plan to offer some buyers a free, without any cost at all, hydrogen car. While these reports are tenous at best, perhaps a national lottery to give away the first 100 or so hydrogen cars to interested individuals might be a way to drum up interest amongst the general public. Who wouldn’t want a cutting-edge, free car, in exchange for taking part in an extensive driving study?

Considering all the challenges hydrogen cars have to overcome compared to battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, maybe giving a few away is a way to drum up some interest in a technology most people still don’t quite “get.”

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Robert Pollock

    I had a vision back in the ’90’s when everyone was talking up Ballard Fuel Cells, of a passive solar designed houseboat, floating on one of the great US, southwestern lakes like Powell. PV panels making hydrogen from the water the boat floats on. A hydroponic garden behind glass that can be “brought about” to any orientation, and once everything was charged up, twin electric screws to take you across the lake. But then the question; Why go across the lake?

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    Why fuel cells?
    The leader in EV battery tech is Japanese (Panasonic) and some of the most promising new developments in Li batteries are coming from Japanese universities.
    Japan has no natural gas (not even coal or oil though they are planning a $5.9B natural gas pipeline direct from Russia).
    Even if Toyota somehow spat the dummy over the the Rav4 Tesla project it would not explain why Honda and the Japanese government are also so keen on fuel cell powered vehicles.
    These people are smart so what do they know that makes this seem like the way to go ?
    Hopefully someone will explain.
    Best regards.

    • Roger Pham

      BEV’s are increasingly taking away market share from ICEV, especially Tesla taking over the high-end auto ICEV market, while the coming Model III is aiming at the mid-range market. However, FCEV may appeal to those who do not want to plug in daily and prefers a 3-5 minute fill up instead of a longer “fast charge.” The Tesla Model S is unbeatable in nearly all respects such as internal space and passenger capacity, ergonomic, acceleration, handling, luxury, and value given it has so much to offer…while the new upcoming FCEV offerings will have a long way to go to catch up to the Model S.

      It will take decades to scale up RE-battery storage-H2 seasonal scale storage to replace fossil fuels, hence the $5 billions NG pipeline from Russia…However, that underscores the importance of starting and perfecting the transition to an-all-RE future TODAY, or we will be caught with our pants down once the oil and gas will run out.

      As I’ve posted above, H2-FC is not a substitution to battery but complementary to battery, depending on the application.

      • dogphlap dogphlap

        Thank you for the reply.
        I am lucky in having a roof with PV panels installed and a garage to house my car so I probably don’t give enough thought to those that don’t (who stand to benefit from FCEVs more than I once ICE vehicles cease to be viable). However I still fail to see why the current push to FCEVs by the Japanese government (+Toyota+Honda) seems to be to the exclusion of BEV development and support. Best regards.
        ps: what does the RE in RE-battery stand for ?

  • Roger Pham

    We must realize that Japan has no oil nor NG nor coal and have to import all of these. H2 from RE will be the new fuel for Japan, for both transportation and home power and heating and hot water heating and industrial use. H2 WILL NOT replace Battery electricity storage for daily solar PV, NOR will FCEV replace BEV, however, FCEV will replace ICEV in order to reduce petroleum importation. H2 will replace NG, oil, and coal in Japan and Europe as well. As RE is getting cheaper, H2 from RE will arrive at cost parity to imported NG and oil…not yet for USA and Russia and OPEC, but for Japan and Western Europe.

    These above are something that Americans with plentiful of shale oil and low-cost natural gas have not yet been able to appreciate. Why use H2 from RE when NG is much cheaper…however, what if your country doesn’t have NG nor oil nor coal?

    • Bob_Wallace

      You’re making some 100% – will happen statements there Roger. Must have an awfully good crystal ball.

      Now, why would Japan pick H2 FCEVs over BEVs when it would have to install more than 2x as much wind and solar to power them?

      And why would Japan give up more than half the energy from wind and solar by converting to H2 for heating when a heat pump would be so much more efficient?

      • Roger Pham

        FCEV will not replace BEV because many people will be afraid of H2 and prefer to plug in at home. However, some ICEV owners will want to switch to FCEV while other will choose BEV instead. At the fuel cost of $6-7/gallon, the ICEV owners are already used to the high cost of fuel.

        Japan is small country geographically meaning when cloud covers and the wind is weak, the whole country may be affected longer than the storage capacity of utility battery storage. Heat pump will be of no use in this situation. Plus, winter energy consumption may double that of fall and spring, while RE availability cannot keep up with this, meaning that a source of seasonal scale energy storage will be needed.

        H2-FC from RE is 4x more efficient than using RE to synthesize methane from H2O and CO2 and use it in ICE, and that’s why H2 is chosen as the synthetic fuel in the post fossil fuel era.

        • Roger Pham

          I must hasten to add that the round trip efficiency of RE-H2 is almost 80% when heat or waste heat is exploited! and this is on par with battery and pump-hydrostatic storage and compressed air means etc…When the heat of electrolysis is also exploited, the round-trip efficiency can approach unity…and this is unbeatable!

          Stored in deep caverns underground, the cost per kWh of capacity for H2 energy storage is extremely low and nothing else can beat it, perhaps for pennies per kWh.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You might want to read this article about what it takes to make H2 for refueling cars. Cost of infrastructure is a bit dear….


          • Guest

            Do you have any links about efficiency and waste heat utilization?

          • Roger Pham

            From the journal of electrochemistry, as I recall, the efficiency of commercial grade Electrolyzer when fed with steady (non-fluctuating) DC current is almost 80%. When heat is extracted from use of H2, the efficiency can reach 100%.

            A FC must be cooled, so instead of releasing this heat, it can be captured and used. Home FC with waste heat use is available in Japan. Honda once offered a home-based FC that uses reformed natural gas.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I doubt that people will be scared away from FCEVs. Unless Toyota/Hyundai screw up and blow some up (unlikely).

          Japan has very good wind resources and about to launch a large floating wind farm off their coast. Their east coast is where the best wind is found but the bottom drops away too rapidly for fixed towers.

  • Hydrogen Fuel Cells Vehicles, for niche markets or places which have a surplus of energy & can’t transmit it elsewhere.

    • Ronald Brakels

      So, Iceland. Except electric cars are perfect for Iceland as a large battery pack is not needed as there is nowhere to drive. (Was going to add that they might need a large battery pack for heating, but actually Iceland is not that cold.)

      Now maybe a business case can be made for big rigs to be powered off hydrogen. The H2 could be produced during periods high sunshine and/or wind when the electricity prices drops towards zero and only one hydrogen depot would be needed per city with a few along the main highways. But that has to compete with simply using oil and then capturing and sequestering the CO2 released from the atmosphere and other alternatives, so I don’t know if even this limited use of hydrogen makes economic sense.

      • Bob_Wallace

        What I haven’t found is the cost for the ‘H2 from water’ infrastructure.

        Would it make financial sense to build a H2 plant and run it only when the Sun or wind was putting out more electricity than normal?

        I keep seeing this ” H2 could be produced during periods high sunshine and/or wind when the electricity prices drops towards zero” argument but I’ve never see anyone put numbers to it.

        With cheap equipment and only a few hundred hours production a year and it might work.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Creating H2 from water only requires water, salt, warmth, a couple of chunks of metal and 75%+ inefficiency. If the electricity used is free or almost free, then the massive inefficiency doesn’t matter. Compression and storage is more of a problem for capital costs and if you want to liquify it, which may be necessary due to its lack of energy density, then you have the huge expense of dealing with that. The refueling of trucks will of course need to be done robotically. I can’t give you actual figures, but big rig hydrogen is not going to be cheap. In Australia we are heading towards free electricity on the majority of days thanks to point of use solar and we sometimes have free electricity in the early morning in South Australia thanks to wind power. (Free to huge industrial users, not normal people.) So a depot might only need about 24 hours or so worth of hydrogen storage. But is all this ever going to be able to compete with natural gas either used in a fuel cell or combusted? Even with the expense of removing the CO2 released from the atmosphere this seems unlikely. And then there’s competition from rail and ships and robotic unloading from railheads and ports and local delivery by battery electric vehicles. I really don’t see hydrogen transport happening. Just because powering big rigs off it is more practical than passenger cars doesn’t make it practical.

          • Ronald Brakels

            Note that hydrogen can technically be produced at slightly higher than 50% efficiency but going that high increases the capital cost and is not worth doing if electricity is almost free. Any hydrogen use is going to depend on very low electricity prices or a bizarre lack of alternatives.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Thing is, if people start driving EVs or using cheaper electricity to heat/cool storage for heat pump use then the ‘near zero’ prices will disappear.

            The ‘zero and lower’ prices will go away when subsidies run out.

          • Ronald Brakels

            Yes, and even a 1 cent per kilowatt-hour price on electricity can ruin the economics of hydrogen since that put the marginal cost of hydrogen at maybe 10 cents a kilowatt-hour once it reaches the truck wheels.

          • Ronald Brakels

            Now maybe an existing gas turbine generator running off natural gas, could electrolyse water when the electricity price is zero or close to zero and then immediately burn it once it once the electricity price goes high enough for the turbine to start operating. It would be possible to run spinning reserve off hydrogen when electricity prices are low. But due to problems with embrittlement caused by hydrogen and simply the cost of setting it up, even this seems unlikely, although I understand they are trying it out in Germany.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Just turn off the turbine when the price of electricity is low and save fuel costs.

            I suspect it won’t be long until we see simple gas turbines (peakers) being replaced by storage. CCNG plants will hang in longer and the peakers might get capacity payments for being there on a few hot afternoons a year.

          • Ronald Brakels

            In Australia we are likely to get many megawatts of home and business energy storage and that will not only help meet peak demand, but can take over ancillary services as well and once there is enough eliminate the need for spinning reserve. (Particularly once our largest old coal plants are shut down since their unreliability is what keeps the costs of ancillarly services high.)

  • Bob_Wallace

    We’re very aware that H2 FCEVs are electric vehicles. That’s what the EV part indicates. Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle.

    Now, are you aware that it takes more than twice as much electricity to move a water-derived H2 FCEV a mile than it does an EV in which the energy is stored in batteries rather than stored as hydrogen?

    If you are aware of that then you must also be aware of the fact that driving a H2 FCEV would cost more than twice as much per mile than driving a battery powered EV.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Let me add some more, since your handle is “H2Future”.

      What is the likely future of H2?


      Initially the H2 used for FCEVs will come mostly from reformed natural gas. That doesn’t solve our greenhouse gas problems and it would be only a temporary solution since we’ll burn through all the affordable NG in not a lot of years. Might as well stick with the more efficient ICEVs.

      H2 from water, I covered in my first reply. More than double the cost of running while using batteries as the storage medium.

      Grid storage:

      Hydrogen extraction from water is a very lossy way to store electricity. By the time one goes from electricity to H2 and back to electricity more than 50% of the energy is lost.

      We’ve got several other storage technologies which are far more efficient. PuHS runs 85% to 95%. Flow batteries from 75% to 85%. Both of those are capable of low cost long term energy storage (larger reservoirs/tanks). Various battery technologies are well above 75% and usable for more frequent cycling.

      The future of H2? Not rosy, IMHO.

  • DGW

    Dubya said hydrogen was the answer to our ‘oil addiction’ which was very suspicious. Obviously there is something going on here that only would benefit fossil fuel billionaires who control just about everything, including Toyota.

    • Patrick Linsley

      He did that right as he slashed funding for BEV’s for the exact same reason the Japanese government is backing hydrogen fuel to the hilt: To benefit corporate benefactors.

      Edit: In Japan’s case it’s Toyota’s investment in hybrid cars (cheap batteries will destroy hybrid car sales) in Bush’s case the market for fossil fuel powered vehicles (easier to waste money on fool cell trash than slash the funding for alternative powered car).

      • DGW

        It’s strange power utilities don’t jump on the EV bandwagon since they are guaranteed new demand. Coal and gas doesn’t really compete with petroleum but I suppose the 0.1% need to stick together.

        • Steve Grinwis

          They are jumping on, I think. My hometown utility has put in 2 free charging stations, and the next town over has one as well. Two of those are right in front of malls, in very prominent locations. I’ve used one. Got a nice 40 charge while I shopped for a gift for my nephew…

          I’ve also seen the same thing at a handful of other local utilities. It’ll drive their profit margins through the right as unused night time capacity gets used.

        • Ronald Brakels

          In Australia I get the impression that a number of the Thomas the Tank Engine Club members on the boards of directors of power companies are still going, “Whaaaa? You can make electricity from light? That’s impossible! Next you’ll be saying you can make it from wind!” Others who understand the metric system and are aware of what’s going on want electric cars to boost demand but are aware they have pushed up electricity prices so high here that people are going to want to charge them with rooftop solar power. (Due to massive reductions in feed-in tariffs for some people this is infinitely cheaper than using grid electricity.) Also, they are in great danger from the axing of Australia’s carbon price. Once the Coal-ition is kicked out the next set of politicians may decide that a carbon price is too much of a hassel and so may opt to decarbonize by taking the popular path of simply subsidizing rooftop solar. So power companies want electric cars, but are aware they may be out of a job before Australia has significant numbers of them, so they concentrate on keeping the current system going as long as possible and extracting as much dosh as they can before the wheels fall off.

      • patb2009

        if batteries get cheap, Toyota will break into that market, it’s trivial to take a prius rip the engine out, put in more battery.

        • Patrick Linsley

          Very true, it’s just they aren’t quite ready to go for it now because they’ve invested so heavily in hybrid technology. By 2018 I’m sure they’ll say they’re ‘ready’ to move into BEVs.

  • Vensonata

    I ask myself, what is it with Toyota? They were leaders once with the Prius, many laughed but Toyota triumphed against the wind. Now, are the execs just too old to get with the obvious future of the Bev? That does happen to men when they get old, buggy whip companies don’t last.

    • green.future

      Or maybe we should trust that the folks who brought the Prius as a market leader know what they are doing?

      • eveee

        Definitely not. They went in both feet with SUVs and pickups. They are no longer the leader in fuel economy. They are not bad. But they are in it for the money. And the market. If Americans want big and inefficient, they deliver. Its only their home market that made them want smaller, more efficient. Now that they are in the US in a big way, its different. Same with Honda. They even got into a horsepower race. Face it. Its not really the car companies doing that. Its the consumers boy racer demand.

      • Vensonata

        Well, it is my hope that they know what they’re doing, I want competent people running the world, I really do. But it is my dreadful suspicion that they are in a delusion bubble…that can happen big time in Japanese culture. Obedience ethic rates high.

      • Patrick Linsley

        Not hardly if they’re investing in fuel cells when it’s obvious that BEV’s are the future. No the reason they’re doing this is rather obvious: so they can protect the market for hybrid powered cars. BEV prices coming down will collapse that market and all of the money they sunk into it.

    • eveee

      Yes. The execs are just old and crusty. Not long ago you heard back biting from VW execs about BEVs and still do. But they have an EV now. These corporations are not of one mind. If there is a leader like Stemple at the top that puts his foot down, things can change. But the org does not chage over nite. It reverts as soon as the pressure is off. So it is with Toyota.

  • Try Finding Me

    doubling down on the stupid

    • Steve Grinwis


      The good news is that BEV’s need far less in terms of government support, and will continue to prosper with, or without massive government subsidies of this nature.

  • Kyle Field

    Big money makes big moves. In this modern day format war (a la VHS vs Betamax, BluRay vs HD DVD, etc), let’s hope logic wins out. It would be interesting to see just how much money lobbies pushed towards the politicians pushing Hydro FCs.

    • GCO

      I see the battle not between FCs and EVs, but both vs ICEVs.
      Arguing whether HD-DVD should replace Blueray or vice-versa, seems somewhat pointless when almost everyone still buys VHS…

      I have no problem with Japan subsidizing hydrogen like crazy, it’s a tech that very well could eventually benefit large vehicles like big rigs, as long as this support doesn’t come at the expense of IMHO more promising alternatives like EVs.

      • Matt

        Sorry you lost me at “almost everyone still buys VHS” the rest of your post was deleted from my mind.

        • GCO

          I was reusing @kylefield:disqus’s terms above to contrast new and even future tech (EVs and FCVs) vs antiquated stuff (ICEVs). Let me redo this…

          Arguing whether HD-DVD hydrogen should replace Blueray plug-ins or vice-versa, seems somewhat pointless when almost everyone still buys VHS gas cars

  • Ronald Brakels

    Okay, this is getting silly. Having the Prime Minister come to Australia and talk about importing solar produced hydrogen is one thing. I thought they were just trying to make us feel better by showing us that other countries’ Prime Ministers can be slow at times too, but this is going too far. Did Japan get tired of giving their tax money to the construction mafia and decide that a hydrogen mafia sounds cooler? In the 1970s the world’s first electric powered service station was opened near Taikoyama land (the park that looks like a Classic Doctor Who set) and many people assumed that in the future cars would one day be powered by electricity. So what happened? I think I know what happened. One particular car maker had a hissy fit over having its Emporer of green cars position taken away and is calling in some political favours. They must be getting desperate with Norway now switching to an electric car economy. If Japan threw similar incentives towards electric cars, which is a definite posibility, Nissan would hold a large advantage over Hissyfitota.

    • eveee

      Hydrogen is driven by oil companies and ICE autos. Its that simple. Its been going on in California with CARB forever. Excess credits for non existent FCV, and short shrift for BEV. Why? Well GM could not stop ZEV, so they did the next best thing. They co opted it. They sent in a Trojan horse. Hydrogen disguised as green, created from fractured gas. Absurd. Really. Now Toyota is out pushing hydrogen. GM and Toyota are both doing the same thing. Peddling two things at once, covering their a55es, and hoping they don’t miss the market. Meanwhile, everyone knows who is real. Tesla. And to some extent, now BMW. Take a look at the list of BEVs and see who has made a purpose built from the ground up BEV. Not GM. Not Toyota. Not Ford. Not yet. And not just a quick we got one for the market. Not yet. Just wait until the EV numbers build. They will all be screaming, me toooo! But they won’t have any background or tech to fall back on.

      • GCO

        Who’s real, in Japan? Nissan and Mitsubishi.

      • Michael Walsh

        The larger picture for hydrogen use to power buildings and other applications– derived from water with renewable electricity is a wise course. I follow the visionary and industrial genius of Elon Musk who scoffs at the viability of fuel cells for cars. ( Perhaps their viability for tractor trailers and heavy transport may evolve??)

        What is a FCEV? An electric car vastly complicated with a fuel cell which needs a massive infrastructure built at great cost– bound for obsolescence in 2-4 years at most. If you have seen the charts depicting the rapid improvements in battery technology and falling prices (just like solar panels) then it is a no brainer that the FCEV is doomed. Just look at the actual auto market right now: if you can buy a Model S at about $75,000 and can drive coast to coast in the USA and soon Europe, why in the world would you buy a $70,000 FCEV form Toyota with a handful of hydrogen stations. THIS IS NUTS!

        • Bob_Wallace

          “The larger picture for hydrogen use to power buildings and other applications– derived from water with renewable electricity is a wise course.”

          I have problems with that vision. H2 means that you would get back less than 50% of the electricity you put into the system. You could get over 85% back with battery storage.

          And give this page a read – what it takes in equipment and cost to set up a H2 fueling station that will fill 30 FCEVs in a 10 hour day.

  • JamesWimberley

    “Maybe giving a few away is a way to drum up some interest in a technology most people still don’t quite “get.”” Funny how the more people actually learn about hydrogen vehicles, the less enthusiastic they become.

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