May 28, 2015

The Toyota Mirai: Driving Our Energy Future

Micaela Allen, Communications Fellow

The future of clean transportation is here, and its name is Mirai.

Leave behind everything you know about traditional alternative fuel vehicles, because the newly-launched Toyota Mirai is driving the future of clean transportation—and leaving only water vapor in its wake. "Mirai," which is Japanese for "future," certainly lives up to its name with zero tailpipe emissions, an estimated 300-mile range and only a five-minute fueling time. And yes, it’s also a sharp, smooth ride, having test driven one myself. Different from hybrids and battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs), which still depend on gasoline and create some tailpipe emissions, this fuel cell vehicle’s (FCV) end goals include lower emissions and complete independence from fossil fuels.

The Mirai runs on a combination of hydrogen and oxygen that produces electricity. To put the process simply, hydrogen is pumped into the vehicle just as fuel is pumped into traditional vehicles, where it is then stored in carbon-fiber fuel tanks. While the vehicle is in motion, oxygen is consistently fed into the vehicle through the front grill. Both the hydrogen and oxygen then travel to the fuel cell stack.

That’s where the magic happens…also known as electricity. Unlike traditional vehicles that burn fuel to create power, the fuel cell acts like a battery in the way it uses an electro-chemical reaction within the fuel to release electric power, and thus creates zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The electricity produced then travels to the motor when the foot pedal is touched, and you’re on your energy-efficient way! Or so we soon hope.

Although the Mirai has been on the roads in Japan since 2008, the first deliveries will reach California by the end of 2015, followed by the northeastern United States in 2016. For this phase launch, Toyota has partnered with Air Liquide, one of the world’s most experienced hydrogen suppliers, to introduce 12 hydrogen fueling stations in five states across the U.S., including California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. California is eagerly leading the adoption of hydrogen-powered vehicles by offering purchase incentives and requiring that 33 percent of the hydrogen for FCVs be made with renewable energy such as solar, hydroelectric and biogas. The state has also set a goal of 68 hydrogen station installations for 2016.

While these installation goals will rely heavily on infrastructure and the stations will initially be located few and far between, the Mirai will come equipped with a dashboard application that will alert the driver when a hydrogen station is near in order to avoid stall-outs in between fill-ups.

Starting FCVs on the road might prove a challenge with so few hydrogen fueling stations, but hopefully the Mirai will be able to drive the U.S. to a future in which we don’t need an app to point us to clean energy alternatives --instead, they are highly visible and readily accessible to all.