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商业 - 汽车

丰田拿氢燃料电池汽车赌明天

Doron Levin 2014年02月07日

丰田曾经两次用行动战胜了外界唱反调的人,一次是推出雷克萨斯豪车,一次是引进了油电混动车普锐斯。这一次,它又瞄准了一直叫好不叫座的氢燃料电池车。尽管业内因为目前氢气基础设施匮乏而唱衰这种车型,但丰田还是决定在明年推出自己的氢燃料电池车。

 

    丰田汽车公司(Toyota Motor)正打算再次无视那些唱反调的人。这次丰田的创举是推出首款商用氢燃料电池汽车。这家日本汽车厂商表示,新车将于明年上市销售。

    丰田在一月底于底特律举行的北美国际车展(North American International Auto Show)和一月初在拉斯维加斯举行的消费电子展(Consumer Electronics Show)上都展示过一辆名为FCV的原型车。很多人都希望这辆车正式推出时能有个更好记的名字。

    首批量产燃料电池车的规模不大(不足一万辆),成本很高(五万美元到十万美元之间),而且基本上只在加州销售,因为丰田表示加州已有的小规模连锁加氢站能满足消费者对燃料的需求。

    不过丰田也着重指出,这项技术的潜力很大,因为氢气虽然不是天然资源,但却能从沼气这类化石燃料中提取。同时燃料电池非常清洁,它在产生电能的同时只排放水蒸气和热量。从本质上说,氢燃料电池就是另一种蓄电池。

    而特斯拉(Tesla)电动车公司的创始人埃隆?穆斯克在去年五月接受采访时曾表示,这项新技术就是“傻瓜电池”,是个“笨”主意。穆斯克还表示怀念通用汽车公司(General Motors)现已退休的高管鲍勃?卢兹,正是他经常贬低油电混动车,叫它们“蠢东西”——后来马斯克也开始信奉这种观点。

    20世纪80年代,丰田首次推出雷克萨斯豪华车的时候,市场也曾深表怀疑。到了20世纪90年代末,汽车业对那辆名字古怪的普锐斯(Prius)油电混动车也严重不看好。可是这两个开先河的产品在市场上却一直都大获全胜。

    普及点化学常识吧!燃料电池的核心是由聚合物电解质薄膜(PEM)组成的,氢气和氧气就从这层膜穿过。在它们穿过时,电子就从氢原子上剥离下来并变成电流——而氢分子与氧气结合就形成水蒸气。

    科学家和工程师早就掌握了制造燃料电池的方法,而且已经用在了航空项目和试验车辆上。这些电池商用的最大障碍在于其尺寸、复杂性和高成本。通用汽车、福特汽车公司(Ford)、戴姆勒汽车公司(Daimler)及其他众多汽车厂商一直在致力于研发一种更耐用、更经济的小型燃料电池。有几家厂商还通过合作来降低研发成本。

    氢气必须在一定压力下保存,而且遇火就会爆炸。为了证明自己为FCV研发的存储罐是可靠的,丰田特地对它开枪射击,结果它也并没有爆炸。

    另一个让燃料电池难以投入实用的障碍(丰田声称已经解决了这个问题)在于超低温。它会导致水蒸气凝结,从而让氢气无法穿过聚合物电解质薄膜。

    不过最主要的问题还在于基础设施。对足够多的消费者来说,丰田的FCV能够引起足够多消费者的兴趣,而且让他们能买得起,从而能在生产和销售上激发更多的创新吗?能源公司早已掌握了如何将沼气转化为工业级氢气的办法。如果有足够的需求,加气站就能增加加氢泵。

    丰田运营资深副总裁鲍勃?卡特说:“如果其他人看不上这项技术,那也没关系,” 同时他指出普锐斯问世以来已经卖出了600万辆。

    很久以前汽车高管们就调侃过,氢气是未来燃料——而且永远都属于未来式。而丰田这次可能马上又要让这个笑话摆脱难堪的命运了。

    译者:清远

    Toyota Motor is getting set to defy naysayers once more. This time, Toyota's initiative is the first commercial hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car, which the Japanese automaker said it will sell starting next year.

    Toyota (TM) showed a prototype it calls FCV at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last week and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier in the month. Many are hoping the company can think of a catchier name by the time the car is introduced.

    The first production run of fuel-cell cars will be small (fewer than 10,000), costly (between $50,000 and $100,000) and sold mostly in California, where Toyota says a small chain of hydrogen filling stations will satisfy demand for the fuel.

    But the automaker also contends the potential for the technology is enormous, because hydrogen, which doesn't occur naturally, can be derived from fossil fuels like methane. Fuel cells, meanwhile, are clean, generating electricity and emitting only water vapor and heat. In essence, a hydrogen fuel cell is another type of battery.

    Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla (TSLA) battery-powered cars, in an interview in May referred to the new technology as "fool cells" and a "stupid" idea. Musk is reminiscent of General Motors (GM) executive Bob Lutz, now retired, who regularly dismissed gas-electric hybrids as "dumb" -- until he became an apostle.

    Toyota elicited deep skepticism when it unveiled Lexus luxury cars in the 1980s. In the late 1990s the automobile industry likely was dubious about its oddly named Prius gas-electric hybrid. Both initiatives have been grand slams.

    Chemistry tutorial alert! At its heart, a fuel cell consists of a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) through which hydrogen and oxygen pass. As they do, electrons are stripped from the hydrogen and become electric current -- the hydrogen molecules combine with oxygen to form water vapor.

    Scientists and engineers have known how to build fuel cells for some time and have demonstrated them in space programs and in experimental vehicles. The main obstacles to their commercialization have been their size, complexity, and high cost. GM, Ford (F), Daimler and most other carmakers have been working to develop a small, durable and affordable fuel cell. Several manufacturers are partnering to reduce research cost.

    Hydrogen must be stored under pressure and will explode if ignited. To show that it had developed a reasonable storage tank for its FCV, Toyota fired bullets at it, without an explosion.

    Another obstacle to practical use of fuel cells (which Toyota says it's solved) has been low temperature, which causes water vapor to freeze, thereby inhibiting the flow of hydrogen across the PEM.

    But the major complication has been infrastructure. Will Toyota's FCV be interesting and affordable to consumers in large enough measure to attract innovation in terms of production and distribution? Energy companies know how to convert methane to hydrogen in industrial quantities. Filling stations could add hydrogen pumps if enough demand exists.

    "If others want to tune out this technology, that's fine," said Bob Carter, Toyota senior vice president of operations, noting that his company has sold six million Prius hybrids since its introduction.

    Once upon a time, automotive executives would crack that hydrogen was the fuel of the future --and always would be. Toyota may be on the brink of putting their joke out of its misery.

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