I have a confession to make that may upset some of you: I firmly believe that solar farms are an excellent use of grazing land, that wind farms have an elegant and sculptural beauty, and that we should be investing significantly more into nuclear power than we do at present. I don’t consider myself to be an environmentalist but I do accept the fact that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later and generating cleaner electricity is an essential part of the equation.
I know that many of you will vehemently disagree and that’s absolutely fine. We are all entitled to form our own opinions and the world would be a dull place indeed if we all shared a single idea. I also know that most of you will be wondering what on earth this has to do with motoring. Let me explain.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the concept of electric vehicles but the current crop of battery-powered and hybrid cars aren’t necessarily the answer. Batteries aren’t much good for anything more than a quick trip to the shop, the manufacturing process creates some very nasty waste products and have you seen what the requisite ore-mining does to a landscape? Hybrid’s still require fossil fuels to do most of the work and rely on the same batteries as previously mentioned. Plugging your car into the mains every night may give you a nice warm glow but concealed behind the smug look is the inconvenient truth that all you are doing is shifting the pollution from your exhaust through the plug, along the grid and back to the massive power station that churns out infinitely more CO2 than an entire multi-storey full of supercars ever will.
Over recent months Toyota have made massive strides towards redressing the balance with the introduction of a new hydrogen-powered car. I’m sure most of you will appreciate the environmental advantages of a car that is fuelled by the most abundant element in the universe, doesn’t require batteries and has an exhaust that emits nothing but water, but in case the environmental reasons are insufficient, bear in mind that zero emissions equals zero road tax.
The Mirai – it means “future” in Japanese – went on sale in Japan in December. Toyota initially planned for around 400 orders per year but the 1500 they have received so far exceeded their expectations so much that they have increased planned production from 700 units this year to 3000 by 2017. This is likely to increase further still because the first Mirai rolled onto a Bristol dockside yesterday on its’ way to UK dealerships.
As well as producing a viable hydrogen car, Toyota have also taken the extraordinary step of making more than 5,600 patents available for royalty free use. The patents relating to fuel cells, high pressure fuel tanks, software control systems and the production and supply of hydrogen enable anyone to examine Toyota’s technology and develop their own versions of what many consider to be the best option for cleaner cars in the future. Essentially, Toyota has spent billions developing hydrogen technology and then given that advantage away to all of its competitors, for free.
What we have is a new technology that promises cleaner motoring, is freely available to every manufacturer to copy and adapt, offers falling production costs that will eventually translate to lower prices for the consumer, and is supported by a comprehensive network of filling stations that supply hydrogen fuel. Can you guess which part of that last sentence is wrong?
As it stands there are only around 20 places in the UK where hydrogen fuel is available. That’s it. Just 20 filling stations where you can get hydrogen. In case you were wondering, I’m reliably informed that the nearest one is located at Honda’s Swindon factory. With a range of around 400 miles on a full tank who wants to factor in a trip to Swindon to fill up? I find this fact incredibly annoying and at the risk of being somewhat presumptuous, so should you.
We are constantly told that we need to switch off the lights, turn down the thermostat, not leave the TV on standby. We are bombarded with junk mail and unsolicited phone calls offering subsidised cavity wall insulation and subsidised solar panels. Grants are freely available to those wishing to build the solar and wind farms that you may or may not object to. I’m not naive enough to think that developing the technology to produce and supply hydrogen fuel is cheap or easy but I’m absolutely convinced that we should be doing more to encourage it. The patents are freely available and the process could help drive economic growth as well as the next generation of motor vehicles.
This country certainly isn’t lacking the scientific experience or ability to lead the world in hydrogen technology but we do seem to be woefully short on the will necessary to make Toyota’s efforts worthwhile. Either that or the our Government is unnecessarily reliant on donations from the oil industry. Congratulations to Toyota on the advancements they have made, now we need to build on them and make our own positive contribution to the future.