Last week, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) entered into a MoU with the government’s automotive testing agency, the iCAT (International Centre for Automotive Technology), to study and evaluate its fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), the hydrogen-powered Mirai, on Indian roads and climatic conditions.Tadashi Asazuma, executive vice-president, Sales & Customer Service, TKM, told FE that it’s a pilot project. “In India, we do see momentum from the government, but there must also be a requirement from customers (for hydrogen cars to be commercially launched).”But what is the Mirai, and does it drive any different from petrol/diesel cars or electric cars? A while ago we got the opportunity to test the first-generation Mirai in Delhi (in a controlled, traffic-free zone).
What is a fuel cell?
Like stem cells in the field of medicine, fuel cell is a nascent technology in the automotive world. It works like electrolysis (electric current is passed through a substance, and the substance loses or gains an electron), but in reverse.In simple terms, instead of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, these two elements are combined to produce water and electricity. The electricity is then used to drive the car’s motor, and water is the waste. The fuel cell gets oxygen from the air, and hydrogen from a tank.
What defines the Mirai’s design?
While in the first-generation Mirai (in the photos, the one we drove) the styling was clearly dictated by its eco-car status, especially the unconventional design lines, the second-generation Mirai, launched in 2021, has a more conventional design that is expected to appeal to a larger number of customers. It is the second-generation Mirai that TKM has brought to India for evaluation.While the first-generation Mirai was a front-wheel-drive car, the second generation has a rear-wheel-drive platform. It has three hydrogen fuel tanks, compared to two tanks in the previous model, and can hold 5.6 kg of hydrogen (compared to 4.6 kg in the previous Mirai). The battery is also new (lithium-ion high-voltage battery in place of the previous nickel-metal hydride unit).
How does it drive?
The Mirai drives like an electric car does—the cabin is exceptionally quiet, the acceleration is linear because it doesn’t use gears like petrol/diesel vehicles do, and because the body is very aerodynamic there is minimal wind noise. The second-generation Mirai’s acceleration has improved by 0.6 seconds to 9 seconds for the 0-100 km/h sprint, and its top speed is 175 km/h (nowhere in the range of new battery electric vehicles like those by Tesla, Mercedes-Benz or Audi, which do this sprint from 3-6 seconds).
Is it better than electric cars?
The Mirai can travel 650 km on full tank of hydrogen, and then refilled in 2-3 minutes—provided there is a hydrogen fuelling station around—just like conventional petrol/diesel cars (electric cars need many hours to fully charge). Also, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, while lithium used in batteries is found mainly in Chile and China, and Chinese companies control the supply chain. Then there are unanswered questions around end-of-life lithium-ion batteries: Where to dispose of these, and how?Once we are able to produce enough hydrogen sustainably and cost-effectively, as also its supply lines (filling stations, pipelines), we may see the dawn of FCEVs.India’s hydrogen policy, announced on February 17, aims at boosting the domestic production of green hydrogen—hydrogen made from clean fuel such as solar—to 5 million tonnes by 2030 and making India an export hub. If it succeeds, it might be a shot in the arm for carmakers and commercial vehicle companies developing FCEVs, and the dawn of a true hydrogen society may not be a distant mirai (the future).