Toyota’s cartridge helps make hydrogen portable

Hydrogen has long been touted as a solution to cleaner road traffic. When used in fuel cells, the only emissions from its use are water and it eliminates the slow charging problem of battery electric vehicles. It has also been offered as a replacement for everything from natural gas supplies to laptop batteries.

Toyota has made a strong commitment to hydrogen technology and has worked on developing vehicles and infrastructure for this purpose. The company’s latest effort involves a portable hydrogen cartridge – How to use hydrogen on the go!

Resolution of storage and shipping issues

The portable hydrogen canisters weigh only 5 kg. Photo credit: Toyota

Despite all its benefits, hydrogen is a bit tricky. H2 molecules are so small that they will leak out of most containers and find a way to slip between other molecules. This can lead to problems such as leaks or hydrogen embrittlement in metal components. Therefore, materials must be carefully selected to safely store hydrogen. It is usually stored as a compressed gas or liquid, or in solids in special metallic forms.

The dimensions of Toyota’s attractive round canisters are quite compact – 400mm long and 180mm in diameter. Footnotes from Toyota indicate that they rely on a “high-pressure hydrogen tank,” implying storage in gaseous form. The target weight for the canisters is 5 kg. Thus, the canisters can be easily handled and carried by a single person while serving as a lightweight energy storage device. They are much lighter than a typical propane cylinder (approx. 30 kg) or a full petrol can (approx. 25 kg).

Toyota discusses the canister’s power output with an odd metric. A cartridge should “generate enough power to run a typical household microwave for about 3-4 hours”. Given that microwaves typically operate in minutes, one suspects the TV dinners at Toyota headquarters could be more than a little muddled. Despite it, the press release notes that this is derived from a typical capacity of 3.3 kWh when the canister is used with a “typical FC”. [fuel cell] System.”

While it’s not a lot of power, the total capacity is around 660 Wh/kg. Even in view of the chic plastic housing, it is still better than lithium-ion batteries, which at best achieve around 260 Wh/kg.

Toyota demonstrated a twist-and-lock insertion method for the hydrogen canisters that feels very futuristic indeed.
It’s even better when the machine sucks them in automatically, like those magical Macintosh drives of the 1980s. Photo credit: Toyota, Woven City

With such a small overall capacity, it’s hard to imagine these canisters being used for transport applications. Most electric cars have batteries with a capacity of over 70 kWh; it would take more than 18 such canisters to provide the same amount of power. 3.3kWh could power your electric scooter for a decent long ride, but you’d have to have a fuel cell and 5kg jerrycan hanging from it somehow.

Instead, Toyota seems to see the canisters as a way to deliver clean electric power in a more weight-efficient format than using batteries. The canisters will be tested at Toyota’s Woven City, a pioneering “smart city” in Japan that hopes to test new technologies. There they are used to perform a “wide range of everyday applications, both inside and outside the home”. Potential applications could be powering hotplates at an outdoor picnic or lighting a campsite without the noise of an internal combustion engine generator.

The cartridges take a difficult and finicky fuel and condense it into a clean, no-fuss format. Photo credit: Toyota

The general idea is that the canisters are an easy way to provide hydrogen energy in a portable format. Unlike liquid fuels, hydrogen cannot simply be poured from one tank to another. Instead, charging a series of canisters makes it easy to transport hydrogen to where it’s needed.

Toyota has high hopes for hydrogen as the fuel of the future. It has invested heavily in hydrogen cars and still lags behind its peers in battery-electric vehicles. With these hydrogen canisters, Toyota “imagines the development of hydrogen into a familiar, widespread form of energy”.

It’s hard to see Toyota’s vision today. Electric vehicles are getting better than ever, and hydrogen production typically requires more fossil fuels than you might expect. However, technology is evolving rapidly, from Toyota’s portable canisters to hydrogen pastes and advanced aluminum fuel pucks. Whether any of this can stop a broader push towards pure electrification remains to be seen.

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