After unveiling a new fuel cell-powered prototype vehicle during last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Toyota is back this year and inviting others to join it in what it calls the "hydrogen society" by making available thousands of hydrogen fuel cell patents, royalty free.
The initiative was announced today at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, and Toyota hopes it will spur the development and introduction of fuel cell technologies around the world.
Physicist and futurist Michio Kaku had grand things to say about the Toyota Mirai, the company's first commercially available fuel cell vehicle. The Mirai, he said, is a "game-changer" in terms of everyday life, energy use and politics.
"Seventy-five percent of the universe is Hydrogen," he said. Might as well use it to fuel your car then, eh?
Toyota Senior Vice President for Auto Operations Bob Carter echoed Kaku's sentiment and talked about a discussion between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, who were good friends despite being competitors, in which Ford predicted gasoline as the power source of the future for automobiles, while Edison went with batteries.
Carter pointed out that in the end, both were right. "Competitors can also be collaborators," he said, before announcing the company's plan to share its hydrogen patents.
"We're at a turning point," stated Carter.
Here's the details: Toyota will make available approximately 5,680 globally held fuel-cell-related patents. Those include critical technologies developed for the Mirai. The list includes approximately 1,970 patents related to fuel cell stacks, 290 associated with high-pressure hydrogen tanks, 3,350 related to fuel cell system software control and 70 patents related to hydrogen production and supply.
"Hopefully by sharing these patents with others, the new fuel cell systems can be refined and improved," he said. "I believe that this marks a turning point in automotive history."
This Toyota initiative builds on previous commitments, including $7.3 million financial investment for the development of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure in California and additional investments to help build 12 more stations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Fuel cells in cars combine hydrogen with oxygen from the air to power an electric motor and produces only water as a waste product, meaning that the cars truly produce zero emissions. However, as of early 2014, there were only 10 hydrogen fueling stations in the country, which limits the viability of hydrogen-powered vehicles. There are dozens more stations in the works, but it would take a major effort to make hydrogen facilities as ubiquitous as those that dispense gasoline and diesel.
Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell patents will be made available to automakers who will produce and sell fuel cell vehicles, as well as to fuel cell parts suppliers and energy companies who establish and operate fueling stations, through the initial market introduction period, anticipated to last until 2020. Companies working to develop and introduce fuel cell buses and industrial equipment, such as forklifts, are also covered.
Patents related to fuel cell vehicles will be available for royalty-free licenses until the end of 2020. Patents for hydrogen production and supply will remain open for an unlimited duration. As part of licensing agreements, Toyota will request but not require that other companies share their fuel cell-related patents with Toyota for similar royalty-free use.
Companies interested in Toyota’s fuel cell-related patents will negotiate individual contracts with Toyota.
The Mirai, which quite appropriately means "the future" in Japanese, rolls out this fall.