Animal waste from the farms of California’s fertile Central Valley will soon be used to fuel up a new generation of ultra-clean cars and trucks, Toyota announced Thursday during a news conference at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
One of the industry’s biggest proponents of fuel-cell vehicles, or FCVs, Toyota hopes the Tri-Gen Project it is setting up at the Port of Long Beach, in suburban Los Angeles, will help overcome the chicken-and-egg problem that has so far limited acceptance of hydrogen power: the lack of a production and distribution network.
“We believe hydrogen technology has the potential to become the powertrain of the future,” said Doug Murtha, a group vice president for strategic planning with Toyota’s North American operations. Adding the project, which will generate 1.2 tons of hydrogen a day, will be “a key milestone in Toyota’s larger commitment to clean mobility.”
Toyota currently has one fuel-cell passenger vehicle on the market, the Mirai. It also has been running a pilot at the Port of Long Beach, using hydrogen-powered semis to replace the diesel trucks considered one of the major transportation sources of pollution in the smoggy L.A. region.
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The biggest challenge for hydrogen proponents is the limited availability of the ultra-light gas. Even with a concerted effort by manufacturers and government groups, there are just 32 publicly accessible stations pumping hydrogen in the entire state of California – a number expected to reach perhaps 100 by the end of the decade. That limits where fuel-cell vehicles can be sold or operated.
Even rolling in hydrogen cars sold by Hyundai and Honda, volumes have been measured in the hundreds a year.
The Tri-Gen project could help set up a process to expand the infrastructure – and address another serious environmental challenge, the flood of manure created by the nation’s factory farms.
(Click Here for more on Toyota’s fuel-cell truck project.)
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe but, on Earth, it is not available as a pure gas. It can be generated in a variety of ways, such as using electricity to electrolyze water or separating it from more complex compounds ranging from natural gas to animal waste. That is the approach Tri-Gen will take, using the methane released as manure breaks down.
“Tri-Gen is a major step forward for sustainable mobility and a key accomplishment of our 2050 environmental challenge to achieve net zero CO2 emissions from our operations,” Murtha said.
The project will produce enough hydrogen to fuel about 1,500 fuel-cell vehicles a day. The equivalent of 2.35 megawatts of electricity, it could alternatively power 2,350 average-sized homes.
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Toyota is partnering with Fuel Cell Energy, with several federal, state and regional government agencies on the Tri-Gen project, as well as the University of California, Irvine.