Hydrogen fuel cells have long been looked towards as a cleaner alternative to oil derived fuels. Vehicles powered by them are supposed to run silently, and only produce water as a by-product instead of various carcinogens. Toyota recently announced the Mirai, a vehicle scheduled for release in 2016. The thing that makes this particular car special is it’s powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The only problem with a car that is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell is the lack of stations to fuel it at. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Mirai is the first commercially available car to be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, which probably accounts for a lack of fueling stations.
Toyota however seems to have a plan to combat this issue. Toyota is making it’s hydrogen fuel cell patents available to it’s competitors for free until 2020. About 5680 patents in total. The idea is by eliminating the “traditional corporate boundaries” the development of new technologies such as hydrogen-fuel cell powered cars can be accelerated. The free use of patents will hopefully allow other automakers to design and sell their own hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicles, which in turn will increase the need for more fueling stations, and also advance the technology. Apart from hoping other automakers also produce their own hydrogen powered vehicles, Toyota is also financially supporting the development of a hydrogen fueling network in California. A partnership with Air Liquide should see similar development in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, with 12 new stations in the works.
The patents will be available to automakers who will produce and sell hydrogen powered vehicles. It also includes part suppliers, energy companies, and bus companies working on hydrogen powered buses.
When the Prius was released back in 1997, Toyota licensed patents to other auto manufacturers, but for a price. This is said to be the first time Toyota has offered up its patents for free on a new technology.
In one sense, it may seem surprising that Toyota would offer up such patents for free. But, when you look at it, you see that this is in fact a very smart decision on Toyota’s account. There really isn’t any other competitors in this particular market. There really aren’t very many fueling stations. Sure, there are a few in certain parts of the country, but the lack of stations in most other areas means people aren’t going to be able to use hydrogen powered vehicles of any sort for long trips. This is where the need for more fueling stations comes into play.
If Toyota’s competitors eventually sell they’re own hydrogen powered vehicles, it could create a market for hydrogen fuel stations, which is needed to see the success of hydrogen-powered vehicles. Energy companies may even look into operating hydrogen fuel stations, as Shell already does in the US, Europe, and Asia. If a company like Shell expanded it’s current hydrogen fuel operations, it could help kick start the hydrogen-fuel cell powered car. Energy companies could introduce hydrogen fueling at it’s current gas stations already in place.
It may take a few years before such vehicles become commonplace on the roads. But they very well could, and Toyota is definitely taking a huge step in the right direction. Not only does this hopefully open up the possibility of more development on hydrogen powered vehicles in the auto industry, it also gets people talking about it, which is crucial.
For Toyota, if this works out, it could become very profitable for them as well, depending on how well its Mirai and future hydrogen powered vehicles do in terms of sales.