Friday, January 9, 2015


Toyota announced at this week's Consumer Electronics Show that it will open up 5,680 fuel cell patents to automakers and other companies. The patents include technologies developed for the upcoming Toyota Mirai, and will be available for use royalty-free. The move is intended to advance fuel cell development and the adoption of hydrogen for automotive use.

Included in the now royalty-free patents are 1,960 filings related to fuel cell stacks, 280 related to high-pressure hydrogen tanks, 3,000 related to fuel system control software, and 65to 70 pertaining to hydrogen production and supply. The patents are freely available for other automakers, fuel cell suppliers, and companies working on hydrogen-powered buses or industrial equipment. Energy companies will also have access to Toyota's hydrogen tech to help then better establish a fueling infrastructure. Suppliers and companies outside of the transportation sector will be required to submit requests to use the tech, which will be reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis.

The first generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy providers," Toyota senior vice president of automotive operations Bob Carter said in a release. "By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically.the Toyota Mirai is the first fuel cell vehicle that is truly commercially available. It is set to go on sale in California in the fall and in a handful of Northern states by 2016. The price is $57,500, or $499 a month for a 36-month lease. Federal and state incentives could lower the final cost for buyers to under $45,000.

Fuel cells create a chemical reaction when hydrogen passes through them, resulting in the creation of electricity and water vapor. They have no moving parts, compared to thousands in traditional gasoline engines.

The technology clearly has a lot of upsides, but it requires a refueling infrastructure to really take off. That’s why Toyota has invested $7.3 million in fueling stations for California and will be investing more to help create a hydrogen network in the Northeast.

During his speech at CES, Kaku admitted he was a skeptic of the commercial potential for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. But after he learned that the Toyota Mirai can drive 300 miles on a tank of compressed hydrogen and requires only about five minutes to refuel, he was sold.

One huge advantage he pointed out is that the fuel itself is abundant. “Seventy-five percent of the universe is made out of hydrogen,” Kaku said. “You want to see hydrogen? Go outside, take a look at the stars, the galaxies, the sun. Hydrogen is the most plentiful substance in the universe. And contrast that now to oil, black gold, one of the rarest of substances on the planet Earth. Nations will kill to secure supplies of oil.

Toyota previously licensed its hybrid technology to other automakers in a move to bring hybrids into the mainstream, but the company says this is the first time it has made its patents available for free. Toyota's announcement follows a similar move by Tesla, which opened up its patents to the world last summer. Just as Toyota hopes to promote the adoption of hydrogen, Tesla made its patents available to encourage EV development and more competition in the all-electric car realm.

Toyota says its fuel cell patents will be available royalty-free until the end of 2020, while its hydrogen production and supply patents will remain open indefinitely. The company says it will request, but not require, companies that use Toyota's tech to share their fuel cell-related patents in return.

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