Hydrogen carbide ... in general indifference

Two hundred years that the concept exists, fifty that the prototypes succeed one another, but the world always cares indifferently for hydrogen vehicles. But we may be at a historic turning point, which Switzerland could negotiate tightly

Sitting on the comfortable cream-white seats of our car, we swallow miles of winding asphalt between the green hills of Argovia. Our vehicle was practically no noise so far, when suddenly a slight mechanical buzz is heard. "That's because the air compressor starts to turn a little faster to supply oxygen to the fuel cell," says apologetically Philippe Cauderay, Toyota Switzerland executive in charge of the project Mirai, the name of the car we drive alongside him.

Marketed in Switzerland since 2017, the Toyota Mirai is one of the few hydrogen cars on the market. Driven by a handful of Japanese manufacturers, mainly Toyota, this technology has matured. Switzerland has some assets that could make it an example in this area. But, as always since the beginning of the nineteenth century and the first engine prototypes (that we owe to ... a Valaisan, Fran├žois Isaac de Rivaz), technology unfortunately raises the most total indifference.

The Mirai does not have the nervousness of a Tesla. Too bad for playboys who like twirling their graying toupee "

Taste of plastic 

The Mirai and his ilk are propelled by an electric motor. Except that the energy supplied does not come from batteries, unlike electric cars, but from a fuel cell fueled with hydrogen (H2). This element, stored in tanks, is associated with oxygen (O2) of the ambient air during a chemical reaction releasing energy for the engine, while emitting pure water (H2O).

It must be admitted, the Mirai does not have the nervousness of a Tesla. Too bad for the playboys who like twirling their graying toupee starting at the green light, because the effect "wow" is located elsewhere, at the exhaust, from which comes out the colorless liquid, odorless and without flavor. "It's pure water, you can drink it, but it tastes a little plastic," warns Alain Treier, a member of the Mirai team. While he was still French Minister for the Ecological and Solidarity Transition, Nicolas Hulot had even had a drink in front of an audience of journalists.  These quenching gesticulations aside, the Mirai offers an autonomy of about 450 to 500 kilometers in real conditions, and its two hydrogen tanks fill up in three to five minutes at the pump. Yes, "the" pump, because there is only one public in Switzerland, at a Coop service station in Hunzenschwil, not far from Toyota's offices. Inevitably, without a pump and with a tariff of 89,000 francs, it calms the ardor of the most ecological and wealthy buyers.  We are back to the starting point: everyone does not care about hydrogen cars. "Currently, the Mirai costs us more than it yields," admits Alain Treier. Toyota has sold eight ... to Swiss private customers, "but we hope to change that in three to five years by becoming profitable." Before seeing them ride on Swiss roads, the manufacturer knows he has a lot of pedagogical work ahead of him, for example to dismantle misconceptions about the explosive nature of his cars. Although hydrogen vehicles may be as safe as their gas-powered counterparts, images of the inflamed Hindenburg zeppelin are hard-skinned.

Swiss asset 

Why do not politicians push this emission-free engine more, when they are forced to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, of which transport represented more than 30% in Switzerland in 2015? First, because the ecological balance of hydrogen production is not very good: it comes from 75% to 90% of natural gas, a fossil energy whose cracking produces a lot of carbon dioxide.  That said, the argument does not really hold for Switzerland, where it is extracted by electrolysis of water by the company H2 Energy. An energy-intensive process that relies solely on electricity produced during the night by a hydroelectric power station over the Aare. About 10 liters of water are needed to produce 1 kilogram of the precious gas, which is then transported by truck to the Hunzenschwil petrol station where it is sold at 10 francs per kilo (a full tank costs around 50 francs).

Is there only one pump because there are only eight Mirai in circulation, or is it the other way around? The chicken and egg dilemma blocks the rise of hydrogen. But Toyota assures, prices will collapse, and service stations will emerge in our country. In 2018 the Mobility H2 consortium in Switzerland was created, bringing together partners such as Coop, Migros, Socar and Shell to build a network of service stations along the main roads by 2023 to drink hydrogen trucks, which make the investment more profitable than cars.

At the pump, the dihydrogen is worth ten francs a kilo. A full is worth about 50 francs and provides a little less than 500 km FG
The pistol is magnetized and the seal perfectly sealed to prevent any leakage. FG
As for the rates, Philippe Cauderay recalls that "few people believed in hybrids when they were launched at 54 000 francs in 1997. Today technology is available from 21 900 francs and we have sold 12 million hybrids The same pattern will repeat itself? In Japanese language, mirai means "future". What if Toyota was thinking of getting his car into the present?

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