Road Testing Toyota’s New Generation Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car

Toyota Highlander Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle

SERC Senior Research Engineer Greg Chapman takes the newly acquired Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle out for a test drive. (Photo credit SERC).

SERC recently acquired a brand new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle from UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC). The smog-free vehicle is a 2009 Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle (FCHV-adv), and as the manufacturer states, “It is one of the most technologically-advanced vehicles on the planet.” SERC is helping the TSRC road test and acquire operational data for the vehicle.

Built on Toyota’s Highlander mid-sized sport utility vehicle platform, the FCHV-adv is a zero-emission vehicle equipped with a 100-kilowatt PEM fuel cell, four high-pressure hydrogen fuel tanks, an electric motor that directly drives the front wheels, a nickel- metal hydride battery, and a power control unit. Maximum fuel pressure in this new generation vehicle has been doubled from 350 bar to 700 bar giving the car a range of over 400 miles on a full tank. The sophisticated power control unit determines the division of energy between the fuel cell stack and the battery to power the vehicle and is similar to the mechanism that manages the engine and battery in the Toyota Prius.

Starting with a tank that was three-quarters full, SERC director Peter Lehman, senior research engineer Jim Zoellick, and I drove the car 275 miles from TSRC’s headquarters at the Richmond Field Station home to Arcata. The fuel cell and electric motor drive train is powerful, quiet, and accelerates smoothly, making it a joy to road test. Along with our previously acquired hydrogen powered Prius (see SERC newsletters v.1, #2 and v.3, #3), the addition of the Highlander expands SERC’s hydrogen vehicle fleet to two, the only hydrogen vehicles on the North Coast.

About Greg Chapman

Greg is a graduate of the Environmental Resources Engineering program at Humboldt State University. His primary responsibilities at SERC are the design of in-house fuel cells and bench testing of commercially available fuel cell materials. He is currently project manager for the development of a hydrogen fueling station at HSU. He has also led SERC’s work on the development of a high-pressure hydrogen PEM electrolyzer. Greg's past work at SERC has been focused on hydrogen system design and fabrication for fuel cell demonstration projects. He was responsible for the installation of the hydrogen systems for the SunLine Transit, Schoolhouse Peak and the University of Michigan projects. Prior to attending HSU, Greg served for six years in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from Naval Nuclear Power School and spent four years in San Diego on a nuclear-powered submarine as a steam plant operator. Following his enlistment, he worked as a process control board operator and shift supervisor at an independent oil refinery in Los Angeles.