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Japan Readies for Fuel Cells

Japan continues to be bullish on hydrogen as a future automotive fuel, although there is considerable skepticism about government targets for introducing fuel cell vehicles to the marketplace.

In a national plan announced last December, the government set cumulative sales targets of 50,000 units by 2010 and 5 million by 2020. Even officials at the Ministry of Economy, Industry & Trade (METI), the main force behind hydrogen research, feel these targets are unrealistic.

“The arithmetic works against them,” says one official. “If sales in 2005 and 2006 (the first two years of the initiative) are in the several hundred range, that means demand would have to exceed 10,000 units annually from 2007 through 2010. It’s just not feasible.” The same basic arithmetic applies to the 5 million target, but by a factor of five to 10. Thus, average annual sales would have to approach 50,000 units. “Not likely,” declares the official.

Still, METI is bullish on hydrogen as reflected in this year’s ministerial budget in which outlays for hydrogen research were raised to $258 million, 41 percent more than in fiscal 2002. Spending covers seven projects.

These include:

  • Polymer-electrolyte fuel cell technology, five years from fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2004. This year’s budget: $42.5 million.
  • Basic technology for safe usage of hydrogen, five years from fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2007. This year’s budget: $37.5 million.
  • A public road demonstration study of fuel cell vehicle and hydrogen fuel station operations, three years from fiscal 2002 to fiscal 2004. This year’s budget: $32.5 million.
  • Establishment of codes, standards, regulations and testing methods (part of the socalled ‘Millennium Project’), four years from fiscal 2001 to fiscal 2004. This year’s budget: $32.5 million.
  • Lithium-ion batteries as a supplemental power source for fuel cell vehicles, three years from fiscal 2002 to fiscal 2004. This year’s budget: $16.7 million.
  • Small-capacity ‘direct methanol’ fuel cells for laptop computers and cellular phones, three years from fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2005. This year’s budget: $1.7 million.
  • Large-scale ‘molten carbonate’ and ‘solid’ fuel cells for power generation, five years from fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2004. This year’s budget: $30 million.
The METI official says fiscal 2004 outlays will be roughly the same as this year’s, although a final decision will not be made until next spring.

With respect to the three-year Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Demonstration Project, which got underway last June, there are currently around 25 test vehicles in operation on public roads in the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area. These include 11 Toyota FCHVs, six Honda FCXs, three Nissan X-Trail FCVs, four Hino FCHV-BUS2s, one Mercedes-Benz F-Cell and one Opel HydroGen3; the HydroGen3 is the only model to run on liquid hydrogen (see specifications below).

It is not clear whether Daihatsu’s Move FCV-K-2 has joined the test although the model, which employs a Toyota fuel cell system, received a license plate earlier this year from the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry.

Meanwhile, four hydrogen fueling stations have gone into operation since March with a fifth scheduled to come onstream in August. These include hydrogen made from desulfurized gasoline, naptha, liquid hydrogen, liquid petroleum gas and methanol.


 Toyota FCHV-BUS2 Toyota FCHV Honda FCX Nissan X-Trail FCV Daihatsu Move FCV-K-2 Mercedes F-Cell Opel HydroGen 3
Fuel cell stack Toyota Toyota Ballard UTCToyota BallardGeneral Motors
Fuel cell output 90 kW (x2) 90 kW 78 kW N.A.30 kW 68 kW 94 kW
Fuel typecompressedcompressedcompressedcompressedcompressedcompressedliquid
Storage system high-press. tankhigh-press. tankhigh-press. tankhigh-press. tankhigh-press. tankhigh-press. tankhigh-press. tank
Min. stor. pressure 34.5 MPa. 34.5 Mpa34 MPa34.5 Mpa24.8 Mpa34.5 Mpa68 liters
Secondary battery nickel metal hydridenickel metal hydrideultracapacitorlithium-ion nickel metal hydridenickel metal hydridenickel metal hydride
Motor type permanent magnet permanent magnet permanent magnet coaxialpermanent magnet N.A.N.A.
Maximum output 80 kW (x2) 80 kW 60 kW 58 kW 32 kW 65 kW 60 kW
Maximum torque260 N-m (x2) 260 N-m 272 N-m N.A.65 N-m 210 N-m 215 N-m
Cruising range 250 miles 187.5 miles 222 miles 125 miles 75 miles 94 miles 250 miles
Maximum Speed50 mph 97 mph 94 mph 78 mph 65.5 mph 87.5 mph 87.5 mph

This article was provided exclusively to Automotive Industries by J•REPORTS, a new information service offering in-depth coverage of automotive technology based in Tokyo. For additional information about this and other studies and prices, contact

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