Fig. 1 Toyota
1. The Sora fuel cell-powered bus is designed to carry 78 passengers and a driver. More than 100 will be manufactured in advance of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Toyota Shows Off Two Fuel Cell-Powered Concept Vehicles

The automaker’s bus and 620-mile-range crossover debut at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Alkaline fuel cells have been the primary source of electrical power for human spacecraft for nearly five decades. The Apollo Command Module’s primary source of electric power was from a set of three fuel cells combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity (27 to 31 volts and 563 to 1,420 W for each power plant) and water. The water was used for drinking by the astronauts.

If you’d like to see an Apollo-era fuel cell, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington has one in its collection (though it isn't currently on display).

For the latest in automotive fuel cell designs, however, you have to make your way to the Tokyo Motor Show opening on Thursday. Two new concept vehicles from Toyota making their debut are powered by hydrogen fuel cells producing electricity, water, and heat. They employ an electric motor, a battery, and a power control unit.

Toyota’s Sora fuel cell bus (Sora is an acronym for Sky, Ocean, River, Air—the earth’s water cycle) is aimed for production in 2018, with more than 100 of them to be used in the Tokyo metropolitan area ahead of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sora’s powertrain consists of two 114 kW fuel cell stacks and dual drive motors outputting 113 kW and 355 Nm of torque each (equivalent to 152 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque). A relatively small nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery is also on board, as are a total of 10 hydrogen tanks with a total capacity of 600 liters.

In addition, the Sora fuel cell bus is also capable of outputting power during emergencies or disasters when the local power grid is offline. It can provide 9 kW of output with a total supply of 235 kWh when fully fueled.

Sora is designed to carry up to 79 passengers, with 22 seated, 56 standing, and one driver. Its total length is 10,525 mm (34 feet, 6 inches), width is 2,490 mm (8 ft, 2 in), and height is 3,340 mm (10 ft, 11 in). Other key specifications are listed in the table below.

Vehicle

Name

Sora

Length/width/height

10,525/2,490/3,340 mm

Capacity (seated, standing, and driver)

79 (22 + 56 + 1)

FC stack

Name (type)

Toyota FC Stack (solid polymer electrolyte)

Maximum output

114 kW × 2 units (155 PS × 2 units)

Motor

Type

AC synchronous

Maximum output

113 kW × 2 units (154 PS × 2 units)

Maximum torque

335 N・m × 2 (34.2 kgf・m × 2)

High-pressure hydrogen tank

Number of tanks (Nominal working pressure)

10 (70 MPa)

Tank internal volume

600 liters

Drive battery

Type

Nickel-metal hydride

External power supply system2

Maximum output / power supply amount

9 kW / 235 kWh

Key specifications of the fuel-cell powered Toyota Sora (Source: Toyota)

Sora has what the company calls “peripheral monitoring,” using eight high-definition cameras inside and outside of the vehicle to detect pedestrians, bicycles, and other obstacles in order to warn the driver with sound and images to improve safety.

Boarding and exiting is eased by an automatic arrival control system, which steers the bus into its stop within 3-6 cm (1.1-2.3 in) from the bus stop edge and within 10 cm (3.9 in) from the bus stop’s front or aft stop position. Automatic arrival control detects the guidance line on the road surface and uses automatic steering and deceleration to stop the bus. This improves boarding and exiting for passengers using strollers or wheelchairs.

Another fuel cell powered Toyota concept vehicle debuting at the Tokyo Motor Show is dubbed the “Fine-Comfort Ride” a crossover-type vehicle that runs on hydrogen fuel cells with a range of 1,000 km (620 miles) per charge. It can be refueled in about three minutes. The fine comfort part relates to six captain’s chairs that all swivel toward the middle; they adjust well to their user’s posture and seating position in a manner similar to a business class airplane seat. The interior is free of traditional trim and buttons with lots of displays. A virtual agent built into touch displays (think Alexa or Siri) on the driver and passenger windows and screens provides a full surround infotainment experience.

Toyota

Toyota

Using in-wheel electric motors means the wheels can be positioned at the very corners of the vehicle, while an under-body cover helps achieve high running stability and quietness.

Fine Comfort Ride features ITS Connect, which launched in Japan in October 2015. ITS Connect uses a dedicated 760MHz frequency for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications to support safe driving, providing drivers with information about traffic signals, emergency vehicles, and the presence of pedestrians; it also can be used to support bus convoys.

The Toyota Motor Show is running through Nov. 6 at Tokyo Big Sight, in the Ariake district of Tokyo.

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