Japan bets big on fuel cell; US runs high on electric cars

Japan aims to create 100 hydrogen fuel stations by March 2016

By Moushumi Sharma
Published: Monday 17 August 2015


In what is being seen as the arrival of the fuel cell era, the world’s biggest car-maker, Toyota, in collaboration with the Japanese government, unveiled its first mass-market fuel cell car last week. The vehicle will hit the market in Japan by March 2015 and will be priced close to 7 million yen ($69,000 approx). It is expected to be launched in the US and Europe in the summer.

A fuel cell vehicle is powered by electricity from cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen, emitting only water vapour and heat. It is much more efficient than battery-operated electric cars as it can run five-times longer. Although hydrogen fuel production from hydrocarbons emits some amount of carbon dioxide, Japan hopes to implement carbon-free production by 2040.

How viable?
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is betting big on this costly and complex technology. The ruling party has proposed subsidies and tax breaks for consumers to make the fuel cell car cost-effective. According to a report in Japan Today, the government also aims to create 100 hydrogen fuel stations by March 2016 in urban areas where the fuel cell car will be launched initially.

“This is the start of a long challenge to make hydrogen a standard feature in society and to make the fuel-cell vehicle an ordinary automobile,” the report quotes Toyota executive vice-president Mitsuhisa Kato at a news conference.

The technology, however, is yet to gain ground. “Even after 10 years, fuel cell cars are likely to be less than 10 per cent of the Japanese market. “This isn’t a strategy to talk about for the next 10 years, but for the next 20 to 30 years,” says Ryuichiro Inoue, a professor at Tokyo City University and expert in the auto industry.

California leads electric car race
Japan is not the only country pushing for clean technology in the automobile sector. Electric cars are a rage in the US. California ranks first in the country with the maximum number of electric cars on its roads (77,000) followed by Georgia (10,000). New Jersey, once a leader in promoting clean cars, now ranks 11th in the country with 3,800 electric vehicles. A report in nj.com estimates that by 2025, the number of electric cars in the Garden State could cut half a million tonnes of carbon pollution annually, which is equivalent to taking 100,000 gasoline-fuelled cars and trucks off the roads. 

“The promise of electric vehicles in New Jersey couldn’t be stronger in a state that has the densest population in America, and arguably some of the worst traffic,” the report quotes Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, an environmental advocacy organisation. Malley detailed his organisation’s report on electric cars at a news conference last week. The report, “Driving Cleaner”, urges New Jersey to offer better tax incentives for potential electric car buyers. California offers up to $5,000 in tax credit per car. New Jersey has also been left behind by neighbouring states in terms of the number of electric charging stations (92). It ranks behind New York (386), Maryland (239), Pennsylvania (155) and Connecticut (136), the website states. New Jersey did not join the eight-state plan, announced last month, to put 3.3 million electric and fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2025.


Report: Driving cleaner - More electric vehicles mean less pollution

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