Copenhagen—Toyota and lithium just don’t mix.
Masatami Takimoto, executive vice president for the technology department at Toyota, acknowleged during a presentation at Copenmind,
a technology conference taking place here this week, that the Japanese auto giant will inevitably put lithium ion batteries in some types of cars.
Toyota, for instance, will probably put lithium ions into commuter cars and will also likely use a lithium ion battery in its plug-in hybrids. In fact, the company will in the near future send out lithium ion batteries to those testing the plug-in Prius. Right now, those plug-in Priuses contain two regular Prius batteries, which cuts the all-electric driving range down to around 13 kilometers.
Challenges, though, persist with lithium-ion batteries, he said. They are expensive. They can’t drive cars very far and they weigh a lot, which in turn hurts mileage. Thus, enthusiasm is tempered.
“Lithium ion batteries will probably be used in vehicles, but we still have problems,??? Takimoto said. “We do think it’s appropriate to use lithium ion batteries in commuter cars.???
And don’t expect an all-electric car with lithium ion batteries, or any kind for that matter, for a while. Batteries don’t have the energy density that can compete well with liquid fuels or even fuel cells.
“We at Toyota believe that plug-in hybrids are the most practical way for an ordinary vehicle to take advantage of electricity,??? Takimoto said.
Take a look at the shot of his PowerPoint slides from the conference. That little bar at the left near "inferior"? That’s the energy density of lithium ion batteries. Next over is combustible hydrogen (not fuel cells) and compressed natural gas. and next beyond that are the liquid fuels.
Takimoto also pointed out that all-electric cars were a tough sell in the past. In the 90s, the company put out an all-electric version of the RAV4. It didn’t sell well because customers were concerned about price and range.
Despite all the skepticism surrounding hydrogen fuel cells, he said that the concept still has a future. Take a look at this second power point slide. The brick walls represent the technological and other hurdles that will need to be overcome for a particular technology to succeed. For fuel cells, the biggest challenges are figuring out ways to make hydrogen cheaply without generating carbon dioxide. (Now, most companies make it by cracking methane at high temperatures, which releases large doses of CO2.). Transporting hydrogen will also take work.
But look at the size of the barrier. It’s a lot smaller than the one for electricity. A hydrogen fuel cell car being tested by Toyota gets 560 kilometers on a tank of the gas.
“We should assume that electricity and fuel cells will be necessary,??? he said.
Cars, particularly commuter cars, will also get smaller. He showed a picture of the iQ, a Smart-car sized commuter vehicle that can fit four passengers coming soon. It’s less than three meters long. (How do they get four adults in? The seats are really, really thin, like outdoor furniture).
The other interesting point about his slides is the projection for liquid fuel. In short, they are going to be around for a while. Diesel and gas will naturally have to be cut down. The automotive industry can’t survive unless we do something about dwindling supplies, air pollution and CO2 emissions. He noted that 60 percent of the NOx gases in Japan come from diesel transportation, and diesel isn’t popular in Japan.
To that end, Toyota is experimenting with cellulosic ethanol, flex fuel vehicles, and even looking at things like natural gas to liquids (GTL) and coal to liquids.
The hybrid, though, still rules at Toyota. As of August, the company has sold 1.6 million hybrids to date. These cars have cut fuel consumption worldwide by 2.9 billion liters and carbon dioxide emissions by 7.5 million tons. The company wants to be selling a million hybrids a year in the 2010s.
So far, Toyota has come out with 12 models of hybrids and will have a hybrid option in all of its lines of cars in the 2020s, he said. These figures include Toyota’s diesel hybrid buses.